Pneumococcal for Adults

The major types of pneumococcal disease are pneumonia (lung infection), bacteremia (blood infection), and meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord). Less severe illnesses include ear and sinus infections. Pneumonia is the most common form of pneumococcal disease in adults.

Adults 65 years or older are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease. In addition, some adults 19 through 64 years old are also at increased risk, including those:

  • With chronic illnesses (lung, heart, liver, or kidney disease; asthma; diabetes; or alcoholism)
  • With conditions that weaken the immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer, or damaged/absent spleen)
  • Living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
  • Who smoke cigarettes

According to the CDC, each year in the United States, about 900,000 Americans get pneumococcal pneumonia and about 5-7% die from it. Additionally, as many as 400,000 hospitalizations from pneumococcal pneumonia are estimated to occur every year in the U.S. Most pneumococcal deaths in the United States are in adults.


Pneumococcal disease is spread by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms depend on the type of pneumococcal disease, but generally include fever and/or chills. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Cough, shortness of breath and chest pain (pneumonia)
  • Stiff neck, headache, confusion and pain when looking at lights (meningitis)
  • Low alertness (bacteremia)
  • Ear pain, red/swollen ear drum and sleepiness (middle ear infection)


The best way to prevent pneumococcal disease is by getting vaccinated. Pneumococcal vaccines help protect against some of the 90+ types of pneumococcal bacteria.

The CDC recommends two pneumococcal vaccines for all adults 65 years or older: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine(also known as PCV13 or Prevnar 13®) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (also known as PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23®).

The CDC also recommends pneumococcal vaccination for adults 19 - 64 years old:

  • With certain health conditions, including asthma
  • Who are taking medications that lower the body’s resistance to infection
  • Who are immunocompromised
  • Who smoke cigarettes

Since there are more than 90 known types of pneumococcal bacteria that cause disease, a previous pneumococcal infection will not protect you from getting the disease again. Therefore, pneumococcal vaccines are still recommended for people who have had pneumococcal disease in the past.

It is also important to get an influenza vaccine every year because having the flu increases your chances of getting pneumococcal disease.

View the recommended adult vaccination schedule and talk to your healthcare provider to find out if pneumococcal vaccination is right for you.