Every Season is Pneumonia Season- Get Vaccinated!

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By Hallie Hudson, PharmD, TTS

So, what is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a disease that can occur at any time, and sometimes it can be deadly. Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi that enter the lungs and cause air sacs to fill with fluid. Inflammation results and produces the symptoms of pneumonia including cough, fever, and difficulty breathing. Pneumococcal bacteria can spread from person to person through sneezing, coughing, and close contact.

Often times, people carry the bacteria in their nose or throat without any symptoms and then spread the bacteria to others. Pneumonia can also be a complication of a severe case of the flu, which is why it’s important to get your yearly flu shot, too!

Pneumonia is more serious in infants, adults over the age of 65, and individuals with certain health conditions or a weakened immune system. The pneumonia vaccines can’t prevent all cases of pneumonia, but they can decrease your chances of catching the disease. That’s why getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent pneumonia.

What are the types of pneumonia vaccines that are available?

There are two types of pneumonia vaccines that are available. The first vaccine is the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), which is known by the brand name Prevnar®. The second vaccine is the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), which is known by the brand name Pneumovax®. Healthy adults under the age of 65 years old do not need either vaccine. However, depending on your health conditions, some patients may need either one or both pneumonia vaccines to help protect them from pneumonia.

Who needs the pneumonia vaccine(s)?

Depending on your age and health status, you may or may not need to be vaccinated against pneumonia.

  • All adults 65 years and older should get their pneumonia vaccines. As we get older, our immune system doesn’t work as well as it once did. It will also be more difficult to fight off a pneumonia infection, so it’s important that adults 65 years and older get vaccinated.

  • Individuals with a weakened immune system may need one or both pneumonia vaccines. Certain diseases can weaken your immune system and make it difficult for your body to fight off illnesses, like pneumonia.

  • If you have chronic heart disease (such as congestive heart failure), chronic liver disease, diabetes, COPD, asthma, or emphysema, you are more likely to have a weakened immune system.

  • People who receive chemotherapy, people who have had organ transplants, and people with HIV/AIDS also have weakened immune systems, which increases the risk of getting pneumonia.

  • People 19 years or older who smoke cigarettes should also receive a pneumonia vaccine.

Healthy adults under the age of 65 do not need either of the pneumonia vaccines. Depending on your age and health conditions, you may need either one or both pneumonia vaccines. You should talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your conditions to better understand which pneumonia vaccine(s) you may need.

What’s the difference between the two pneumonia vaccines?

PCV13, or Prevnar®, helps to protect you from 13 different types of bacteria that can cause pneumonia. The CDC recommends this vaccine for all adults 65 years and older, children younger than 2 years older, and people ages 2 through 64 with certain medical conditions.

PPSV23, or Pneumovax®, helps to protect against 23 different types of bacteria that can also cause pneumonia. The CDC recommends this vaccine for all adults 65 years and older, people ages 2 through 64 with certain medical conditions, and adults 19 to 64 years old who smoke cigarettes.

Adults who are 65 years of age and older should receive on dose of PCV13 (Prevnar®) first followed by one dose of PPSV23 (Pneumovax®) at least one year later. 

As mentioned, neither vaccine can protect you from every type of pneumonia, but they help to protect you against the most common and severe types of pneumonia.

Still have questions about the pneumonia vaccines?

Talk to your pharmacist or doctor to figure out which pneumonia vaccine(s) you may need. If you are a candidate for the pneumonia vaccine, you can receive this vaccine at the pharmacy.


This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.


References:

1.       https://www.cdc.gov/features/adult-pneumococcal/index.html

2.       https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/public/index.html

Hallie Hudson, PharmD