A pneumonia vaccine is used to prevent a person from developing bacterial pneumonia. A medical professional administers the vaccine via an injection to stimulate the patient's immune system to create antibodies against the pneumococcus bacterium. If the person is exposed to the bacteria later, his body will then have a blueprint for fighting it off. Unfortunately, there are many different pneumococcus bacteria, but so far, vaccines are only available for a small percentage of them.
A pneumonia vaccine is used in a process called immunization. Immunization works to provoke an immune system response against a particular pathogen. When it works as expected, it prevents the disease or illness the pathogen is known to cause. In some cases, however, vaccines do not completely prevent the disease or illness; instead, they lessen the symptoms a person may experience because of it. A pneumonia vaccine is just one of many types of vaccines a person may receive.
A person may develop a case of pneumonia despite being immunized against it. This is because there are other pathogens that are capable of causing pneumonia, and a pneumonia vaccine is only effective against a selection of pneumococcus bacteria infections. Viruses or other types of bacteria may still cause or contribute to the development of pneumonia.
The pneumonia vaccine isn’t one of the routine vaccinations most people receive. Instead, it is usually recommended for certain categories of people. For example, it is often recommended for people who are more vulnerable to the possible complications of pneumonia or more likely to develop it; this often includes people who are over 65 years old, though some doctors also recommend it for people over 50. Doctors may also recommend the vaccine for people who have chronic conditions such as asthma, heart failure, emphysema, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or sickle cell anemia.
The vaccine may be recommended differently depending on geographical region or heritage as well. For example, it may be recommended for some tribes of Native Americans and natives of Alaska. In these cases, doctors typically recommend the vaccine to children ages two to five in addition to those ages 50 and older, as there may be an increased risk of infection.
Usually, the pneumonia vaccine is injected into a person’s muscle or beneath the patient's skin. In most cases, a person only needs one dose to be protected for a significant period of time. An individual may need another dose five years after the initial vaccination, however.
This type of vaccine is associated with side effects. For example, a person may have soreness at the injection site or develop a fever. Usually, the side effects are mild.