Pneumonia vaccines help prevent a type of pneumonia caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterium that causes pneumonia and other illnesses that doctors refer to as pneumococcal disease. People with weakened immune systems, the elderly and children are more susceptible to the bacteria, according to WebMD.
Not everyone needs a pneumonia vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC recommends it for people over 65 and children under 5. It also recommends the vaccine for people who are at high risk of contracting pneumococcal infections, including those with HIV, reduced or no spleen function, sickle cell disease and chronic heart or lung disease. Doctors also recommend the vaccine for people who smoke or drink alcohol excessively, those with asthma and people with certain kinds of cancer. Additionally, they suggest that Alaskan Natives and Native Americans consider getting the vaccine due to a slightly higher risk of infection in that population, states MedicineNet.
There are two types of pneumonia vaccine, Pneumovax and Prevnar13. Pneumovax protects against 23 types of pneumococcus bacteria, which are responsible for the majority of pneumonia infections, according to MedicineNet. Prevnar13 is a conjugated version of the vaccine that protects against 13 common strains, and is safer for children under 2 years old or people with certain underlying health conditions. A person's doctor usually determines which vaccine is best for him.