Why the Pneumococcal Vaccine is Truly Important

The pneumococcal vaccination reduces the risk of pneumonia and severity that can result in hospitalization or even death in older people.

Helpful Highlights

  • Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria and can result in a range of ailments, from mild ear infection to meningitis, sepsis, and fatal pneumonia.

  • The pneumococcal vaccine cannot give someone pneumonia and doesn't increase the risk of COVID-19.

  • Pneumococcal vaccination can keep your loved one from getting sick with pneumonia and has been shown to reduce the severity of illness in people who are vaccinated but still get sick.

  • Your loved one getting vaccinated may also protect others (you, other friends and family members, and especially children).

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Pneumonia is more dangerous for older adults

Pneumonia affects individuals 65 or older much more than others, accounting for 65% of pneumonia-related hospitalizations. Pneumonia hospitalizes about 150,000 people in the US each year, killing 5% - 7%, or between 7,500 and 10,500 people. The death rate is even higher among adults aged 65 years and older and people with underlying health conditions. Fewer adults get pneumococcal meningitis or bloodstream infection, but the mortality rate for these infections is higher, even with proper treatment. Pneumococcal meningitis kills about 1 in 6 older patients and blood infection kills about 1 in 8 adults who have these diseases.

Older adults are more susceptible to pneumonia and its complications for several reasons, namely because the immune system weakens as we age and older adults are more likely to have other health conditions that increase their risk of complications from pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a sneaky character, generally coming in behind the open door another illness creates. For example, while an older adult's body is busy fighting off the flu, or they struggle with exacerbations of advancing lung disease like COPD, they might pick up pneumonia as a secondary infection.

Older adults are also more susceptible to pneumonia because of the higher prevalence of conditions like aspiration, shallow breathing, and ineffective cough (not strong enough to clear gunk from the airways) among this population.

Pneumococcal vaccination

Vaccination remains the primary preventive strategy in the elderly against Streptococcus pneumoniae (S.pneumoniae).

The CDC recommends routine administration of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV15 or PCV20) for all adults aged 65 years or older who have never received it or whose previous vaccination history is unknown.

Pneumococcal vaccination is the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease in your loved one. Even if your loved one does get sick with pneumonia, the vaccination can make their illness less severe. Pneumococcal vaccination can:

  • Shorten the length of a pneumonia hospital stay.

  • Reduce the chances of respiratory distress and collapse.

  • Reduce the risk of ICU admission from pneumonia.

  • Reduce the risk of death from pneumonia.

Chronic medical conditions also increase the risk of pneumonia complications. Anyone with a chronic medical condition should get vaccinated, especially those living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. Examples of chronic conditions that can worsen pneumonia complications are:

  • Lung disease (like asthma or COPD)

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

  • Liver disease

  • Brain or nervous system conditions

  • HIV or other immunocompromising conditions

  • Cancer or cancer treatment

  • Obesity

  • Low mobility or sedentary lifestyle

Pneumococcal vaccination myth

The pneumococcal vaccine cannot give someone pneumonia or any other pneumococcal disease. It also does not increase the risk of COVID-19. The development of pneumonia-like symptoms following vaccination can happen for a few reasons:

  • The person is already sick with pneumonia (or other illness) but not showing symptoms

  • Vaccination reaction

  • Coincidence - catching pneumonia before the vaccine takes full effect (about 2 weeks from injection)

  • Catching other illnesses that look like pneumonia but aren't

Coverage

Medicare and Medicare Advantage will pay for the pneumococcal vaccine, as will many private insurance plans. Your loved one can get the vaccine at their provider's office, their local health department, and many pharmacies. Pneumococcal vaccines may also be available at other community locations, such as schools, religious centers, and workplaces.

RESOURCES

Assaad, U., El-Masri, I., Porhomayon, J., & El-Solh A.A. (2012). Pneumonia immunization in older adults: Review of vaccine effectiveness and strategies. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 7, 453-461. DOI

CDC - Pneumococcal Vaccine Recommendations

CDC - Summary of Who and When to Vaccinate

CDC - Pneumococcal Disease in Adults and the Vaccines to Prevent It

CDC - Pneumonia Can be Prevented - Immunizations Can Help

HealthinAging.org

National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA)

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (2014). Pneumococcal disease.

National Institute on Aging

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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