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Pneumonia vaccines in people with autoimmune diseases

December 19, 2017
Pneumonia vaccines in people with autoimmune diseases

Do you need to get the pneumonia vaccine? Patients that have concurrent autoimmune diseases are at a higher risk of infection than others. In fact, infection is one of the most common causes of hospitalization in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE); therefore, it is important to do everything possible to protect yourself from getting sick. The “pneumonia vaccine” or pneumococcal vaccine protects patients from pneumococcal diseases caused by the bacterium, Streptococcus pneumonia. Pneumococcal diseases can be serious and even fatal. Each year, in the United States alone, approximately 18,000 older adults die from pneumococcal diseases.

What is Streptococcus pneumoniae?

Pneumoniae is a gram-positive, spherical bacterium that has more than 90 known variations of the species, also known as serotypes. These bacteria typically group together in pairs or chains. They are the bacteria responsible for pneumococcal diseases including pneumonia, meningitis, bacteremia (infection of the blood), and many other severe illnesses. Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common clinical presentation of a pneumococcal disease. It is a major cause for community-acquired pneumonia and results in about 400,000 hospitalizations every year. Pneumococcal meningitis can result in deafness and brain damage. It kills about 1 child in 10 who get it.

What are some signs and symptoms of pneumonia?

Pneumonia can look a lot like the common cold or the flu. Common symptoms include:

  • Abrupt onset of fever
  • Chills or rigors (uncontrollable shaking)
  • Chest pain
  • Productive cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Malaise
  • Feeling of weakness

Which vaccine should I get?

Currently, there are two forms of pneumonia vaccine that is available in the US. Both forms of the vaccine are inactivated or “killed” vaccines.

Vaccine Brand Name Abbreviation
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine Prevnar 13 PCV13
Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine Pneumovax PPSV23

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) 13, also known as Prevnar 13, covers 13 serotypes. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) 23, also known as Pneumovax, covers 23 serotypes. Typically, both PCV13 are PPSV23 are required with PCV13 being given prior to PPSV23. The minimum interval between PCV13 and PPSV23 is 8 weeks. The table below shows the recommended vaccine schedule for immunocompromised people. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist for more information about which vaccine would be most appropriate for you.

Pneumococcal vaccine status: Age FIRST give: THEN give: THEN give:
None/Unknown 19-64 years PCV13 PPSV23

(at least 8 weeks later)


(at least 5 years after first PPSV23 dose)

None/Unknown 65+ years PCV13 PPSV23

(12 months after PCV 13)

PPSV23 65+ years PCV13

(at least 1 year after PPSV23)


(6-12 months after PCV 13 AND 5 years after PPSV23)

PPSV23 Under 65 years PCV13

(at least 1 year after PPSV23)

Second dose of PPSV23

(at least 8 weeks after PCV13 AND at least 5 years after first dose of PPSV23)

Third dose of PPSV23

at age 65 (if at least 5 years have passed since last dose of PPSV23)

PCV13 No additional PCV13 doses are needed. At least 8 weeks must elapse before getting a dose of PPSV23.

What are some potential side effects?

These vaccines are normally well tolerated; however, side effects may still occur. Possible side effects may include

  • Injection site reactions including redness, pain, and swelling where the shot was given
  • Flu-like symptoms (mild fever, fatigue, headache, chills, or muscle pain)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Life-threatening allergic reactions from this vaccine may also occur but are very, very rare

Where can I get the pneumonia vaccine?

Most doctor’s offices carry the pneumococcal vaccination. Call your primary care provider or specialist to see whether they can give you your pneumococcal vaccination. If not, most pharmacies also give this service as well.

Who should NOT get the vaccine?

Patients with a known hypersensitivity or allergy to any part of the vaccine should not receive the vaccine. Patients who have had allergic reactions to vaccines containing diphtheria (ex: Tdap, DTaP, tetanus vaccine) should tell their healthcare provider or pharmacist before receiving PCV13.

If you are feeling sick, wait until you feel better before getting the pneumonia vaccine.

Patients who are pregnant should not get the vaccine. Although there is no evidence of the vaccine being dangerous to the mother or the baby, as a precaution, it is recommended to receive the vaccine prior to conception.

Key points

  • The pneumonia vaccine can help protect you against serious or even fatal diseases.
  • Medications used in autoimmune conditions including RA, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, etc. can further weaken your immune system and predispose you to getting infections. Staying vaccinated can help keep you healthy and lower your risk of getting sick.
  • Pneumococcal diseases can spread from person to person through close contact.
  • Patients should receive up to 1 dose of PCV13 and up to 3 doses of PPSV23 in their lifetime. PCV13 and PPSV23 should not be administered on the same day.
  • The pneumonia vaccine can be given year-round. You can even get the flu shot on the same day. Just try to get one in each arm to reduce any pain associated with getting the vaccines.
  • When thinking about starting chemotherapy or other immunosuppressive therapy (ex. steroids, biologics, etc.), the interval between vaccination and initiation of immunosuppressive therapy should be at least 2 weeks.
  • You will not get sick after getting the vaccine; however, it is not uncommon to have flu-like symptoms that are caused by your body’s response to the vaccine.
  • It will take a couple weeks before the vaccine will take its full effect.

Final thoughts

For immunocompromised people, it is recommended to receive vaccination against the bacterium S. pneumoniae as outlined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) vaccine schedule. Many studies and government organizations also support the use of the vaccination as the benefits outweigh the risks of this preventable infection. Other people who are also immunocompromised or over the age of 65 should also receive the vaccine. These patients may include those with congenital or acquired immunodeficiency, HIV infection, chronic renal failure, nephrotic syndrome, leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin disease, generalized malignancy, multiple myeloma, solid organ transplant, or iatrogenic immunosuppression. Iatrogenic immunosuppression is based on the use of immunosuppressive drugs, including long-term systemic corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone) and radiation therapy. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns on the pneumonia vaccine.


Guest Authors: Yahya Rasoully, PharmD Candidate 2018; Stephanie Tchen, PharmD, PGY-1 Pharmacy Resident; and Jessica Farrell, PharmD


  • Pneumoccoal Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. Hamborsky J, Kroger A, Wolfe S, eds. 13th ed. Washington D.C. Public Health Foundation, 2015.
  • Rákóczi É, Szekanecz Z. Pneumococcal vaccination in autoimmune rheumatic diseases. RMD Open. 2017;3:e000484.
  • Nagel J, Saxne T, Geborek P, et al. Treatment with belimumab in systemic lupus erythematosus does not impair antibody response to 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. Lupus 2017;26:1072–81.
  • Alten R, Bingham CO, Cohen SB, et al. Antibody response to pneumococcal and influenza vaccination in patients with rheumatoid arthritis receiving abatacept. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 2016;17:231.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal Vaccines (PCV13 and PPSV23): Addressing Common Questions about Pneumococcal Vaccination for Adults. Available from

Medical Disclaimer

This information is offered to educate the general public. The information posted on this website does not replace professional medical advice, but for general information purposes only. There is no Doctor – Patient relationship established. We strongly advised you to speak with your medical professional if you have questions concerning your symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.


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