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COPD and the Pneumonia Vaccine: What You Need to Know


Updated November 29, 2012

Pneumonia Vaccine

Now This Won't Hurt a Bit!

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What is Pneumococcal Pneumonia?

Pneumococcal pneumonia is a lung disease caused by a bacteria known as Streptococcus pneumoniae. A serious, often life-threatening illness, pneumococcal pneumonia kills approximately 1 out of every 20 people who fall victim to it.

Who is at Greater Risk for Pneumococcal Pneumonia?

While anyone can get pneumococcal pneumonia, it usually affects children under 2 years old and adults, 65 years of age and older. People with COPD are at greater risk for developing pneumococcal pneumonia as are those with other chronic health conditions such as alcoholism, heart disease, other types of lung disease, kidney failure, diabetes, HIV and certain types of cancer.

How Can I Prevent Pneumococcal Pneumonia?

The pneumococcal polysccharide vaccine (PPV) can help protect you against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. While most healthy people will develop protection from pneumococcal disease within several weeks of receiving the shot, people in the high risk groups, such as the elderly, children under 2 years of age, or those with certain illnesses may not respond as well, or at all, to the vaccine.

Who Should Get PPV?

  • Adults 65 years of age or older.
  • Anyone over 2 years old with a chronic illness such as heart or lung disease, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, alcoholism or cirrhosis.
  • Anyone over 2 years old who has a condition that may lower their body's defense to infection, such as Hodgkin's disease, lymphoma, leukemia, kidney failure, HIV, AIDS, multiple myeloma, nephrotic syndrome, damaged or no spleen or organ transplant.
  • Anyone over 2 years old who is taking a drug or treatment which can lower their defense against infection, such as long-term steroids, cancer drugs, or radiation.
  • Adults 19 to 64 years of age who smoke and/or have asthma.

How Many Doses of PPV Will I Need?

Generally, only one dose of PPV is necessary. A second dose is recommended, however, for the following groups:

  • Anyone 65 years of age or older who got their first dose before they turned 65, if at least 5 years has passed since the dose was given.
  • Anyone who has a damaged or no spleen, sickle cell disease, HIV, AIDS, cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, kidney failure, nephrotic syndrome, an organ or bone marrow transplant, or who is taking medication that may lower their immunity, such as chemotherapy or long-term steroids.

What Are the Risks Associated with PPV?

PPV is a safe vaccine with few reported serious side effects. Approximately half of the people who get PPV, report mild side effects such as redness or pain at the injection site. Less than 1% report developing a fever, muscle aches or more serious, local reactions.

Severe allergic reactions have been reported, but are rare. Remember, however, that there is always a slight risk of serious injury or death when you take ANY medication or vaccine, and while PPV is safe, it is no exception to this rule.

What Should I Do if I Have a Serious Reaction to PPV?

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the lips, face or tongue.
  • Shock

If you suspect that you, or someone you know, is having an allergic reaction to PPV, seek immediate medical attention.

How Can I Learn More About PPV?

Learn more about PPV by contacting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention below:

Call 1-800-232-4636 or visit the National Immunization Program.


Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control. Pneumoccoccal Polysaccharide Vaccine: What You Need to Know. Updated 2009.

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