Worried About Pneumonia? Why the Vaccine Is Your Best Defense

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Worried About Pneumonia? Why the Vaccine Is Your Best Defense

Every year, your doctor likely reminds you of the benefits of getting a flu shot. But there’s another vaccine you should discuss with your doctor — one that helps protect you from pneumonia.

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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.

What you should know about pneumonia

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. They include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Loss of appetite.

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 Robert Kotloff, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Pulmonary Medicine. “The vaccine will certainly reduce your risk of the most common bacterial pneumonia.”

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Who should get the vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the pneumococcal vaccine for those who fall into the following groups:

  • All babies and children younger than 2 years old.
  • All adults 65 years or older.
  • Adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes.
  • Children older than 2 and adults younger than 65 who have certain chronic diseases (those that affect the heart, lung and kidney).
  • Those who are at increased risk for certain diseases (diabetes, chronic heart, lung and liver disease) and those who have impaired immune systems.

The recommendations are sometimes confusing, so it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your questions and concerns, Dr. Kotloff says.

And don’t wait to have that conversation. “This is an infection you see year-round,” he says.

How does the vaccine work?

There are two vaccines used in the United States:

  1. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13®). This vaccine joins a protein to part of the bacteria to improve the protection the vaccine provides. It helps protect against 13 types of bacteria that are the most common cause of serious infection. Typically, children receive three doses and adults one dose.
  2. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax23®). This vaccine looks like certain bacteria. This stimulates the body to build protection against those germs. It helps protect against 23 types of bacteria. Most people receive a single dose, with one to two boosters recommended for some.

Research shows that at least one dose of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects at least 8 out of 10 babies and 75 out of 100 adults (65 or older) from invasive pneumococcal disease. One dose of the second vaccine protects between 50 to 85 out of 100 healthy adults against invasive pneumococcal disease.

Know the facts about the vaccine

Just as with a flu shot, some people believe that getting a pneumococcal vaccine will cause them to come down with the disease.

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“This is absolutely not true,” Dr. Kotloff says.

Not only will the pneumococcal vaccine help reduce the risk of contracting certain types of bacterial pneumonia, 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,” Dr. Kotloff says.

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