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A new pneumonia vaccine

Created date

March 27th, 2015

Vaccines have certainly been in the news, with hot topics being childhood measles vaccination and the relative ineffectiveness of the flu shot this year. While these headlines are being made, there is some important news that all seniors should be aware of and take action on. There is a new pneumonia vaccine, PCV13 (brand name Prevnar 13), which prevents pneumonia and its complications and is now recommended for all seniors by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and endorsed by the American College of Physicians. 

This vaccine adds additional value to the current “pneumonia” vaccine, PPSV23 (brand name Pneumovax 23), as it affords protection against 13 additional strains of pneumococcal bacteria. 

Pneumococcal infection is especially harmful because it can start in the upper respiratory tract; cause pneumonia; become invasive; and spread to the blood, lungs, or nervous system causing medical complications and even death. 

Adults over age 65 are particularly susceptible, and 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. The bacteria associated with this disease spread like the flu or common cold through coughing, sneezing, or close direct contact.

Study results

Vaccine recommendations have now been updated because a study of 85,000 seniors showed PCV13 to be 75% effective in preventing invasive disease and 45% effective in preventing pneumonia for the 13 strains it covers. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends all adults age 65 and over should receive both pneumococcal vaccinations: PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23 (Pneumovax 23). If you’ve already received Pneumovax, you should have Prevnar at least one year later. If you’ve had neither, you should receive Prevnar first, followed by Pneumovax 6 to 12 months later. You can be vaccinated at any time of year.

Like most vaccines, benefits far outweigh the risks, but many people still are hesitant. Some simply think it’s not necessary, and others fear vaccines because of misinformation, such as the myth that this vaccine can cause the disease. According to the CDC, there may be side effects from pneumonia vaccines 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 is extremely small.

Only about 65% of older adults have received the current Pneumovax 23 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. At Erickson Living, we have immunized 94% of the residents, and we hope to do the same with this new opportunity to prevent a potentially life-threatening infection. 

If you haven’t had the new or old pneumonia vaccine, please talk to your doctor about getting them. Taking this step may be a simple yet powerful way to prevent illness and stay well.