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Should you get vaccinated for pneumonia?

Created date

April 24th, 2012
Matt Narrett, M.D., is chief medical officer for Erickson Living and directs the provision of medical care at all Erickson Living communities. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics. He is coauthor of Old Is the New Young, a guide to successful aging (available on If you could take a simple and safe step to prevent a potentially fatal disease, would you do it? Well, most of us would and the good news is that vaccines often provide this opportunity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 45,000 adults die each year from diseases that can be prevented by vaccines. Most of these are from influenza, but about 10% of these deaths are due to pneumococcal pneumonia. This type of lung infection can start in the upper respiratory tract and spread to the blood, lungs, middle ear, or nervous system. There are different types of pneumonia, but pneumococcal pneumonia is especially harmful, and adults over age 65 are particularly susceptible to the disease. Those with chronic health conditions affecting the heart, lungs, or liver are at an even greater risk. People who have had organ transplants or who are taking medications that affect their immune systems are also more likely to contract it.

Vaccine benefits

Like most vaccines, the pneumonia vaccine benefits far outweigh the risks. But many people still are hesitant to be vaccinated. Some simply think it s not necessary, and others fear vaccines because of misinformation, such as the myth that the flu vaccine can give you a flu infection. According to the CDC, there might be side effects from the pneumonia vaccine such as pain or redness at the injection site, slight fever, muscle aches, or mild upper respiratory symptoms, but the risk of serious harm or death from this vaccine is extremely small. Only about 65% of adults over age 65 get the flu vaccine, and even fewer (about 60%) receive the pneumonia vaccine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People initiative aims to increase these percentages to 90% by educating patients and doctors. Unlike the flu vaccine, which you need every year, a pneumonia shot is only needed once for most individuals over age 65, and every five years for people at higher risk. If you haven t had a pneumonia vaccine, talk to your doctor about getting one. Taking this simple step may save your life. In good health, Dr. Narrett