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While not a seasonal vaccine or as widely prescribed as the flu shot, the pneumococcal vaccine helps protect those most at risk for serious pneumococcal infections that can lead to complications, a hospital stay or even death.
“And in the age of COVID-19, it’s especially important to focus on the health and safety of your lungs,” says pulmonologist Anu Suri, MD, FCCP. For those who have preexisting conditions, even more so.
Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs that typically stems from several kinds of germs, most often bacteria and viruses.
Symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly, including:
Early detection is often challenging because many people with these symptoms assume they have a cold or the flu.
It’s important to also note that the vaccine helps protect against some — but not all — bacterial pneumonia.
“There are dozens of different types of bacterial pneumonia,” says Dr. Suri. “The vaccine will certainly reduce your risk of the most common bacterial pneumonia.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the pneumococcal vaccine for those who fall into the following groups:
The recommendations are sometimes confusing, so it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about your questions and concerns, Dr. Suri says.
And don’t wait to have that conversation. “This is an infection you see year-round,” she adds.
Again, it’s best to determine this with your doctor, but as a general rule, the CDC states you should not get the pneumococcal vaccine if:
There are currently two vaccines administered in the United States:
Just as with a flu shot, and now COVID-19 vaccines, some people believe that getting a pneumococcal vaccine will cause them to come down with the flu or virus, or experience long-term side effects.
“This is absolutely not true,” Dr. Suri says.
Not only will the pneumococcal vaccine help reduce the risk of contracting certain types of bacterial pneumonia, but it also guards against serious consequences resulting from the flu and severe infections, such as sepsis.
For young children, older adults, smokers and those with other risk factors, the vaccine is a healthy choice to make.
“I can’t see any reason to avoid this vaccine and every reason to get it,” says Dr. Suri.