Immunization - pneumovax

Alternative names
Vaccine - pneumovax; Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine

This vaccine provides immunization against Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterium that frequently causes meningitis and pneumonia in the elderly and in people with chronic illnesses.


Pneumococcal is an inactivated-bacteria vaccine, which means it uses inactive bacteria to teach the immune system to recognize and fight the causative agent if it is ever encountered.

It effectively prevents illnesses caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae in children over 2 years old and adults at risk. Pneumococcal pneumonia accounts for 10 to 25% of all pneumonias.

The vaccine is recommended for:

  • high-risk people over 2 years old       o this includes people with heart disease, sickle cell disease, lung disease, kidney disease, alcoholism, diabetes, cirrhosis, and leaks of cerebrospinal fluid  
  • all people 65 years or older  
  • people with sickle cell disease or who have had their spleen removed  
  • residents of nursing homes (extended-care facilities)  
  • residents of any institution housing people with chronic health problems  
  • people with immunological deficits (such as cancer, HIV, or organ transplants)  
  • Alaskan natives and certain Native American populations

A single-dose injection is given. One dose is sufficient for most people. However, revaccination is recommended for people over age 65 who received their first dose prior to age 65 and more than 5 years ago.

In addition, people with some of the conditions listed above, especially immunological defects and spleen problems, may need a second dose. This immunization is not effective against pneumococcal diseases in children under 2 years.

There is a different vaccine, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which is routinely given to younger children to protect against disease due to Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Most people have no or only minor side effects from the pneumococcal vaccine. Pain and redness at the injection site can occur. As is the case with any drug or vaccine, there is a remote possibility that allergic reactions, more serious reactions, or even death may occur after receiving the pneumococcal vaccine.

Pneumococcal vaccine should be withheld or given to the following people only after consultation with their primary health care provider:

  • people with fever or illness that is more than “just a cold”  
  • women who are or might be pregnant

Watch for and be familiar with how to treat minor side effects, such as low-grade fever or tenderness, at the injection site.


  • uncertain if the pneumococcal vaccine should be delayed, withheld, or given to a specific person.  
  • moderate or serious adverse effects appear after the pneumococcal injection has been given.  
  • there are any questions or concerns related to the pneumococcal immunization.


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 2, 2012
by Arthur A. Poghosian, M.D.

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