By Kevin Russell R.Ph., MBA
Pneumonia can be a serious infection and sometimes life-threatening medical condition that affects the lungs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 50,622 U.S. deaths associated with pneumonia in 2014. The good news is that people with the highest risk can greatly reduce their risk by getting pneumonia vaccinations.
Vaccinations offer protection from pneumococcal bacteria, which is one of the most common causes of pneumonia. There are two pneumonia vaccinations now: Prevnar-13 (made by Pfizer) and Pneumovax-23 (made by Merck). The 13 and the 23 stand for the pneumonia bacteria variations they protect you from. There is some overlap of variants between the vaccines, but if you are 65 or over, you will need both vaccines to get the best protection. Both vaccines are given in the arm, like a flu shot, and typically side effects are mild to none.
Who should get a pneumonia vaccine? Everyone age 65 years and older should get both vaccines; that is the easy part. It gets more complicated below age 65 as pneumonia recommendations are different depending on long-term medical conditions. If you have a history of pneumonia, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease or decreased immunity, then you likely should get one or both pneumonia vaccines. If not, then you may not need a pneumonia vaccine at all. Ask your health care provider for what is right for you.
Which vaccine should I get first and when? People who are 65 and older should get Prevnar-13 first. Then, Pneumovax-23 should be given at least 12 months later. Once given at or after age 65, these vaccines do not need to be repeated again. If you are younger than 65 and received either vaccine, they likely will not need to be repeated again until you are 65 years old. Pneumonia vaccines are no longer repeated every five years.
What you should do every year is get your flu shot! Flu is a common cause of pneumonia. Preventing flu helps to prevent pneumonia.
Medicare and other insurances cover flu and pneumonia vaccines at no cost to you. You can now walk in, with no appointment needed, to a Samaritan Pharmacy and receive all types of vaccines, including those to protect you against flu and pneumonia. Pharmacists can look at your vaccination records and medical history to make the right recommendation for you.
Samaritan Pharmacies are located in Albany, Corvallis and Lebanon. Visit samhealth.org/Pharmacy for hours and other information.