Pneumococcal Vaccine: Q&A

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What is the pneumococcal vaccine?

The pneumococcal vaccine is given to protect you against infections by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcus. We tend to associate pneumococcus with pneumonia, an infection of the lungs that can cause fever, cough, and shortness of breath. However, pneumococcus can cause infections in other areas of the body as well, including:

  • the bloodstream — a condition called bacteremia
  • the membrane around the brain and spinal cord — called meningitis
  • the otitis media, or middle ear — ear infection

Pneumococcus actually lives in many people’s noses and throats. We’re not sure why it sometimes invades the body and causes infection. These infections can be quite serious, especially in people who have weaker immune systems whether because of age or illness.

There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23). Generally, PCV13 is given to babies and children, while PPSV23 is recommended for all adults age 65 or older.

Why is the pneumococcal vaccine recommended for people with breast cancer?

In addition to being recommended for healthy children and older adults, the pneumococcal vaccine is also recommended for people with cancer who have radiation therapy or certain chemotherapy medications. These can lower resistance to infection, and the risk of serious complications is higher when your immune system is weaker than normal.

What are the side effects of the pneumococcal vaccine?

You cannot get pneumonia or any other kind of pneumococcal infection from the vaccine since it is made from dead bacteria. Some people experience mild side effects such as:

  • soreness, redness, or pain where the injection is given
  • mild fever
  • muscle aches

The risk of a serious reaction is very rare, but any unusual symptoms after a vaccination should be reported to your doctor.



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