Updated: Aug 30, 2021
By Satya Vasan
National Immunization Month is held every year in August to highlight the importance of vaccinations for people of all ages. According to the CDC, the purpose of a vaccination is for our body to produce immunity against certain diseases. Obtaining vaccines will help yourself, your loved ones, and your community become a healthier and happier place. In fact, 14 diseases, ranging from Hepatitis B to Tetanus, can be prevented by getting childhood vaccinations. However, it is just as important to get vaccinated as we age and the pneumonia vaccine is one vaccine everyone over the age of 65 should consider taking!
What is the Pneumonia Vaccine?
The pneumonia vaccine is a key preventive measure for the pneumococcal disease caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. This bacteria causes a wide range of illnesses including pneumonia, meningitis, bacteremia, and sinusitis. Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes the alveoli in our lungs to become filled up with fluid and pus. Pneumonia is dangerous because it can cause severe difficulty breathing for infected patients. Meningitis, which is caused by a viral infection, is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes. Bacteremia is when bacteria is present in the blood and sinusitis is an inflammation of the nasal cavities. Children younger than two years old and adults older than 65 years old possess an increased risk of being infected from this bacteria and can develop these life-threatening illnesses. The bacteria is spread from person to person through direct contact. In the United States, the CDC recommends two vaccinations as preventive measures: Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax. Prevnar 13, which can protect against infection from up to 13 types of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, is given to children under the age of 2 when they are at 2,4,6 12-15 months. (“Pneumococcal Vaccination”, n.d.). Pneumovax has the potential to protect up to 23 types of bacteria and is generally given to people above the age of 65. The CDC also urges people aged 19-64 who smoke, those who have impaired immune systems, and who possess increased risk for chronic health conditions (diabetes, heart disease, lung disease) to take the pneumonia vaccines. Prevnar 13 is given intramuscularly, a shot in the muscle; Pneumovax is given intramuscularly or administered through the fatty tissue present in the arms and the legs. One thing to note is that there are mild side effects of both of these vaccines. After getting the Prevnar 13 vaccine, one might experience mild symptoms of fever, headache, and chills; after getting the Pneumovax one might experience fevers and muscle aches (“Pneumococcal Vaccination”, n.d.).
Scientific Background (What is Inside the Vaccines)
Prevnar 13 is a conjugate vaccine, which is when an antigen (a molecule whose purpose is to trigger an immune response) joins a protein. Pneumovax is a polysaccharide. According to the CDC, a polysaccharide is made up of “long chains of sugar molecules that resemble the surface of certain types of bacteria in order to help the immune system mount a response” (“About Pneumococcal Vaccines, n.d.).
The decision to take a vaccine is a great one! It has the power to make the world a healthier place. Please read these additional resources on the pneumonia vaccines and vaccinations in general.
From the CDC Pneumococcal Vaccine: What Everyone Should Know https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/public/index.html.
From Vaccine Information You Need
From CDC Vaccine Information From Adults
Reasons to Take the Pneumonia Vaccine
The main takeaway: these vaccines are safe and effective protection mechanism against pneumococcal infections
More than 150,000 adults are hospitalized from pneumococcal pneumonia per year (“Pneumococcal Disease and Adults”, 2021).
Pneumococcal meningitis kills 1 in 3 who contract it
From Dr. Michael Ben-Aderet, associate medical director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai "But this bacteria doesn't just cause pneumonia. It's a nasty human pathogen that can invade the brain and bloodstream, leading to ear infections, sinus infections, even meningitis," (“The Pneumonia Vaccine Explained”, n.d.).
Efficacy and Conclusion
Pneumonia vaccines have a high efficacy rate ranging from 50-80%. These vaccines are highly recommended to be taken BECAUSE of the increased risk of causing serious affections in OUR population. According to the CDC, even just one shot of the Prevnar 13 vaccine can protect 3 in 4 adults aged 65 and greater against invasive pneumococcal disease and one shot of the pneumovax vaccine can protect 10-17 out of 20 adults from invasive pneumococcal disease. We have the key, now we need to use it to unlock the world of safe vaccines.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 7). About pneumococcal vaccine: For providers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/hcp/about-vaccine.html.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 7). Pneumococcal vaccination: What everyone should know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/public/index.html.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, February 3). Vaccine preventable adult diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/adults/vpd.html.
Pneumococcal disease and adults. National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. (2021, February 5). https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/pneumococcal-disease-and-adults/.
The pneumonia vaccine explained. Cedars. (n.d.). https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/pneumonia-vaccine.html.
Top five reasons for adults to get vaccinated against pneumococcal disease. National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. (2020, September 27). https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/top-five-reasons-for-adults-to-get-vaccinated-against-pneumococcal-disease/.