The pneumonia shot is a vaccination given to prevent illness caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, also known as pneumococcus. Infection with this bacteria can cause serious problems, including pneumonia, blood infection or meningitis -- infection of the coverings surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Two forms of pneumococcal vaccines, PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23 (Pneumovax 23), are available and used in specific circumstances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pneumococcal vaccination for all children younger than 2 years of age, all adults 65 years and older and people between these ages who smoke or have certain medical conditions. Although generally very safe, pneumonia shots may produce side effects, which are usually mild and transient.
Injection Site Symptoms
At least half of all people who receive pneumonia shots will experience mild side effects in the area of injection, such as pain or redness. Less commonly, swelling or hardness may also occur in the area. These symptoms can limit movement of the arm or leg where the shot was given. Injection site side effects may be more common when people receive repeat injections. These side effects should diminish within a couple days of receiving the shot. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) may help relieve the pain or soreness. A cold compress may be effective in reducing injection site swelling.
Generalized Side Effects
Fever, fatigue, sleepiness, fussiness, irritability, decreased appetite and nausea may occur after pneumococcal shots. These symptoms are generally mild. But about 1 in 20 children receiving PCV13 develop a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, according to CDC. Joint or muscle pain and headaches may also occur. Generalized effects may be more common in children than in adults. When present, generalized effects occur within the first few days following vaccination. Acetaminophen or an NSAID may help relieve headaches, other pain or a fever. Massage or a warm bath or shower may help alleviate muscle pain.
As with any vaccination, pneumonia shots may rarely cause a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms of these reactions typically include generalized hives, swelling, shortness of breath, wheezing, lightheadedness, dizziness or loss of consciousness. The symptoms occur in the first few minutes or hours after a pneumonia shot. Fortunately, severe allergic reactions are very rare after any type of vaccination, including pneumonia shots. CDC estimates that they occur in about 1 out of every 1 million vaccinations.
Warnings and Precautions
If you are allergic to a vaccine against diphtheria -- a bacteria that can cause severe throat infections -- you should not receive PCV13. This is because PCV13 contains a protein from the diphtheria bacteria, so you could be allergic to PCV13 as well. Diphtheria-containing vaccines include DTaP, DT, Td and Tdap. The safety of pneumonia shots during pregnancy has not been proven. If you are or think you may be pregnant, tell your healthcare provider before receiving a pneumococcal vaccination. See your doctor if you develop a high fever after a pneumonia shot or if you have any generalized symptoms that persist more than a few days. This may indicate that you actually have another illness unrelated to your recent vaccination. Seek immediate medical attention if you have any symptoms of a severe allergic reaction.
Reviewed and revised by: Mary D. Daley, M.D.