The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that adults age 65 and over receive two different pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccines to protect against the most common type of bacterial pneumonia in older adults and against its complications, such as blood infection and meningitis. Pneumovax 23 has long been advised for older people; Prevnar 13 is a relative newcomer. While both vaccines induce immunity against Streptococcus pneumoniae, recent studies have shown that Prevnar 13 provides substantial additional protection.
When to get the Prevnar 13 vaccine depends on whether you’ve already been vaccinated against pneumonia, and if so, when. If you are over 65 and have never been vaccinated, you should get the Prevnar 13 vaccine as soon as possible, then get a shot of Pneumovax 23 at least 12 months later. If you have already received Pneumovax 23 and it was at least a year ago, you should get the Prevnar 13 shot right away. Otherwise, wait until a year has passed from when you received Pneumovax, then get Prevnar as soon as you can.
If you don’t remember whether you previously received a pneumococcal vaccination and there is no record of it, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated. If you are a candidate for vaccination but have previously had pneumococcal pneumonia, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated on schedule. That’s because more than 90 strains of pneumococcus are known to exist, and infection with one does not necessarily produce immunity to others.
Adults ages 19 to 64 who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk of pneumococcal infection should also speak with their doctors about getting one or both vaccines.