The Pneumonia Vaccine: Who Should Get it and When?

By Ashton Miller, Novant Health UVA Health System

Pneumonia is a leading cause of people checking into hospitals across the United States. In fact, one out of every 20 adults who gets it will die.

But two pneumonia vaccines can protect those most vulnerable to the illness. During August, National Immunization Awareness month, shedding light on the importance of pneumonia vaccination can save lives.

Dr. Victoria Hammonds, a family and geriatric medicine provider at Novant Health UVA Health System Bristow Run Family Medicine – Stonewall in Gainesville, explained who is at risk for pneumonia and how they can benefit from the pneumococcal vaccine.

“Two groups of people need to get the pneumonia vaccine – generally, all adults over the age of 65 and people under the age of 65 who smoke or have certain chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes or heart disease,” Hammonds said.

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or chemical irritants. It is a serious infection or inflammation in which the lungs’ air sacs fill with pus and other liquid. According to the American Lung Association, pneumonia is a common complication of respiratory infection – especially the flu.

“Despite being preventable, pneumonia can very rapidly become a life-threatening illness and adults 65 and older are at greatest risk as aging starts to change the immune system,” Hammonds said.

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and undernourishment can also raise your risk.

“The current recommendation for adults who don’t smoke or have chronic illness is to receive the Prevnar 13 vaccine at age 65,” Hammonds said. “Once they receive the Prevnar 13 vaccine, it is recommended they receive the second pneumonia vaccine, Pnuemovax23, 12 months later.” Unlike the flu vaccine, there is no need for an annual vaccination.

It is also recommended that those under age 65 who smoke or have a certain chronic illnesses should receive the Pneumovax23 vaccine at the time a chronic illness is diagnosed. Hammonds said once these patients reach age 65, they should follow pneumonia vaccination guidelines for adults over 65.

“These vaccines are effective,” Hammonds said. “They prevent people from getting pneumonia, and help save lives.”

In addition to being vaccinated, there are also steps you can take every day to help prevent respiratory infection:

  • Steer clear of cigarette smoke
  • Wash hands often
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces
  • Use a tissue, your elbow, or sleeve when coughing and sneezing
  • Manage conditions like diabetes, asthma, and other illnesses

Are you at risk for developing pneumonia? Talk to your primary care provider about the vaccine. If you don’t have a primary care provider, find one at NovantHealthUVAHealthSystem.org/doctor.

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