2016-01-01 / OnCall

Shoot Me Up?


Q: The flu vaccine is well known, but my doctor just told me to consider the pneumonia vaccine. Who should get it and why?

A: Pneumococcal disease is a potentially life-threatening infectious illness caused by a bacterium called streptococci pneumoniae. Many are at risk for pneumococcal disease, which can cause severe infections of the lungs (pneumonia), bloodstream (bacteremia), and lining of the brain (meningitis). It spreads through direct contact with infected respiratory secretions, such as sneezing and coughing. Everyone is potentially susceptible to these diseases; however the very old, very young and people with suppressed immune systems are particularly vulnerable.

Two vaccines can prevent pneumococcal diseases (pneumonia shots): These are the Prevnar 13 vaccine (PCV 13, pneumococcal conjugate) and the Pneumovax (PPSV 23, pneumococcal polysaccharide). Infants and children under age 2 should be considered for the Prevnar 13 vaccine. Experts also recommend both vaccines for adults over 65 without regard to underlying medical problems or suppressed immune status. However, anyone aged 2 through 64 should get both vaccines if they have any medical condition or chronic illness like heart, lung, liver or kidney disease, cancer, HIV infection, or are taking a chronic medication that lowers the body’s ability to fight infections. When both are recommended, the Prevnar 13 should be given first followed by the Pneumovax another time.

The most common side effects are slight soreness at the injection site, slight muscle aches and low-grade fever. Like any vaccine, there are small risks that serious problems could occur. Talk with your healthcare professional to make sure you are current with these and other recommended vaccines.

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