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Vaccine Arm No Faces

2023 Pneumonia Vaccine for Adults: How Often Should You Get It?

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Time and again, older adults have been reminded of the importance of getting vaccinated – for COVID-19, influenza and shingles. But there’s another vaccine that shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle – the one that protects against lung-inflaming pneumonia.

The pneumococcal vaccine is not a seasonal shot, nor is it prescribed as often as the flu shot. It is, however, important to discuss the pneumonia shot with your doctor if you are over the age of 65 or if you have certain underlying conditions. With COVID-19 still hanging around, it’s a good idea to focus on lung health.

As with other vaccines, the one for pneumonia can’t prevent all cases, but it can lower your chances of getting the disease and lessen its severity if you do come down with it.

For most older adults, the vaccine is administered in two doses that provides protection against different types of the infection. However, there’s also a newer pneumonia vaccine that offers equal protection with just a single shot, the PCV20 vaccine (Prevnar 20). Currently, the CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices are only recommending a single PCV20 vaccine. And at this time, research shows no boosters are needed after that. Like with everything in medicine, this may change, but at this time, it provides lifelong protection.

Pneumococcal pneumonia vaccines are available at many doctor's offices, local pharmacies and at some local health departments.

The shots and their effectiveness

Most of the time, getting vaccinated for pneumonia consists of two shots. Typically, they are administered over a 12-month period. The first shot, PCV13, provides protection from 13 of the most severe types of bacteria that cause pneumonia. The second, PPSV23, should be given a year later for extra protection against those types, as well as protection from some additional types of pneumonia bacteria.

Another option is PCV20. This shot is based on PCV13 and has shown to provide just a much protection after a single dose. The FDA approved PCV20 in 2021. Since it’s new, it’s not available everywhere, but if your doctor or pharmacists has it, it may be a good option for you.

These pneumonia vaccines, the first of which was licensed for use in the United States in 1977, are very effective at preventing pneumonia and other pneumococcal diseases. One study detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine of over 84,000 people 65 or older revealed that those who received PCV13 were less likely to get pneumococcal pneumonia than were those who received a placebo shot. The vaccine protected about 45% of vaccinated people from getting pneumonia and about 75% from getting an invasive pneumococcal disease such as meningitis or bacteremia. This means a lower chance of being hospitalized.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the vaccine for all adults 65 years of age or older. It is also recommended for those 19 through 64 who have underlying medical conditions or risk factors such as asthma, cigarette smoking, and alcoholism.

If you receive PCV13, you’ll need PPSV23 one year later. Don’t worry, if all you received was PPSV23 (Pneumovax), you can still get PCV13 or PCV20 one year later to boost your immunity. Depending on which shots you received and when you got them, it may be a good idea to receive a booster after five years. Your doctor can help you determine if you need additional vaccines.

If PCV20 (Prevnar 20) is available, it’s the only shot you’ll need.

Side effects

Pneumococcal vaccines are safe, according to the CDC. Most people do not have any serious problems as a result of getting the shots.

However, mild side effects that usually do not affect daily activities can occur. They include redness or tenderness at the site of the injection, fatigue, fever, muscle aches and headaches. If these problems occur, they usually go away within about 2 days, the CDC says.

About pneumonia

Pneumonia is a common lung infection caused by germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It can be a complication of the flu or COVID-19. Pneumococcal pneumonia, caused the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae, is the most common bacterial pneumonia in the world.

Symptoms can vary greatly, from mild to severe. They include fever, wheezing, cough, chills, rapid breathing, chest pains, loss of appetite and malaise, or a general feeling of weakness or ill health. Complications from pneumonia include respiratory failure, sepsis, and lung abscess. These complications are more likely to affect older adults, young children, those with a weakened immune system, and people with other medical problems.

Treatment depends on the cause of your pneumonia, how severe your symptoms are, your age, and your overall health. Antibiotics, cough medicines and fever reducers/pain relievers are commonly used to fight it off.

Most healthy people recover from pneumonia in one to three weeks, but it can be life-threatening for some. It causes more than a million hospitalizations and more than 50,000 deaths each year, according to the American Lung Association.

There are several proven methods to reduce the chances of getting pneumonia. The Lung Association recommends getting an annual flu shot, as flu often leads to pneumonia. Frequent hand washing and getting the vaccine for pneumococcal pneumonia are also recommended.

To learn more schedule an appointment with Jeffrey Fontenot, MD.

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