CDC Recommendations for the Pneumococcal Vaccine (Pneumovax)

CDC Recommendations for the Pneumococcal Vaccine (Pneumovax)

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Pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for all senior citizens and other high-risk groups.

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Despite the widespread availability of antibiotics, pneumonia remains a significant cause of hospitalization and death around the globe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 million Americans were hospitalized for pneumonia in 2010, and nearly 50,000 people died from their disease. Streptococcus pneumoniae, or “pneumococcus,” is responsible for many pneumonia-related deaths. In addition to pneumonia, pneumococcus causes meningitis, blood poisoning and other potentially fatal diseases. Vaccination against pneumococcus can prevent many of these illnesses and deaths.

Making Policy

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is a group of health care experts that develops guidelines for using vaccines to prevent infectious diseases in the U.S. ACIP periodically reviews its recommendations and revises them, if necessary, to address existing or emerging health threats. In 2010, ACIP updated its recommendations for administering the 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, which is better known as Pneumovax.

Senior Citizens

Elderly people are at heightened risk for pneumococcal pneumonia and other pneumococcal diseases. As you age, your immune system becomes less capable of responding to infectious organisms, even if you are otherwise healthy. Further, many elderly people have other health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, that increase their risk for serious complications if they do acquire an infection.

So, ACIP recommends that all people receive a 1-time dose of Pneumovax when they reach the age of 65. If you have already received Pneumovax for any reason, you should receive another dose at age 65 if at least 5 years have passed since your last vaccination.

Immune Suppression

Many conditions, such as leukemia, HIV infection and long-term use of corticosteroid medications, can impair your immune response and increase your susceptibility to infectious diseases.

ACIP recommends Pneumovax for all people aged 19 to 64 years who have a condition that leads to immune suppression. These people should receive a second dose 5 years after their initial vaccination. People with other chronic illnesses -- heart disease, diabetes, asthma and chronic lung disease, for example -- are urged to receive a single dose of Pneumovax.

Missing Spleen

People whose spleens have been surgically removed or whose spleens no longer function due to a disease or disorder are especially susceptible to pneumococcal infections. Your spleen contains immune cells that are capable of recognizing Streptococcus pneumoniae, and they are an important part of your defensive response to this organism. Without a spleen, you are much more likely to succumb to an overwhelming pneumococcal infection.

ACIP recommends Pneumovax for all people between the ages of 19 and 64 who do not have a functioning spleen. A second dose should be administered 5 years later, just as it is in people with impaired immunity.


Since its pneumococcal vaccination guidelines were previously updated in 1997, ACIP recognized that smokers are at increased risk for severe infections due to pneumococcus. One large study showed that smokers are 4 times more likely to acquire pneumococcal infections than people who have never smoked. So, smokers are now urged to receive a 1-time dose of Pneumovax.

Pneumonia causes more deaths worldwide than any other infectious disease. Streptococcus pneumoniae -- in addition to causing other serious infections -- is one of the most common causes of pneumonia. Many hospitalizations and deaths due to pneumococcus can be prevented by vaccinating people who are particularly susceptible to this organism. Your doctor can tell you if you should receive Pneumovax.