Each year in the United States, about 1 million people have to seek care in a hospital due to pneumonia, and about 50,000 people die from the disease. Most of the people affected by pneumonia in the United States are adults. Pneumonia is due to infection with pneumococcal (pronounced “new-mo-kok-al”) bacteria (germs). More than one-half of these deaths are preventable through vaccination. Deaths from pneumonia related to pneumococcal infection occur most often after age 70. However, pneumonia vaccine is recommended for all persons 65 years of age or above. It is important to know that adults may receive influenza vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine at the same time, in different locations of the body. In addition, children may receive influenza vaccine along with other routine childhood vaccinations.
The pneumonia vaccine can protect people from pneumococcal infection. That’s important because the germ responsible for pneumococcal infection can attack different parts of the body. It often infects the lungs, causing pneumonia. However, it can also invade the blood stream (bacteremia). If it reaches the brain, it can cause meningitis. All of these are serious infections.
Who is at Higher Risk for Pneumococcal Pneumonia
While anybody can catch pneumococcal pneumonia, the following persons have a higher risk of getting it:
People age 65 years or older;
Residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities who are age 50 or older;
People with chronic heart or lung disease, diabetes mellitus, or absence of the spleen (age 2 or older).
People over age two years of age with health problems like diabetes, sickle cell disease, alcoholism, or HIV/AIDS
Persons over two years of age who are taking any treatments that weaken the body’s immune system
The Best Way to Prevent Pneumococcal Pneumonia
For most people, all they need is one pneumococcal pneumonia shot. People who are at higher risk for the disease should also be vaccinated. Therefore, study the CDC Higher Risk list above, because people in those groups should also be vaccinated. While the one pneumonia vaccine will last most people a lifetime, those who have a weak immune system (like after an organ or bone marrow transplant, or with kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, chronic kidney failure, leukemia, and some other conditions) may need to receive periodic booster shots. People with weak immune systems should consult their doctor before getting Pneumonia vaccine.
Some people have mild side effects from the pneumonia vaccine (redness, swelling, or pain at the site of the injection), but these are usually minor and last for only a very short time. Fever, muscle-ache, and more serious pain or swelling on the arm has been reported in less than 1% of people who get the shot. Remember, though, the pneumonia vaccine is often a lifesaver!
For important additional information about pneumonia and flu vaccinations at different ages and with different medical conditions, see https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/index.html
Information on childhood vaccination can be obtained from CDC’s National Immunization Program (NIP), Tel (English) 800/232-2522; Tel (Spanish) 800/232-0233
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