PNEUMONIA—Should You Be Vaccinated? – July 2009

PNEUMONIA—Should You Be Vaccinated?


pneumoniaIt is that time of year again when we are reminded to get our influenza vaccination (flu shot). Now another vaccination, “the pneumonia shot”, is being recommended. While it is obvious that this is to prevent pneumonia, the serious ramifications and complications of this infection are generally unknown.

Facts to consider when deciding whether to get the vaccination.

Bacterial pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia infection. A bacterial pneumonia called pneumococcal (new-mo-kok-al) or streptococcal pneumonia is responsible for 90 % of all cases of pneumonia in adults.

There are many reasons for pneumonia to develop. For example, it might occur after a respiratory infection such as a cold or the flu, especially if one is in a weakened condition or has a compromised immune system.

Serious complications occur if the bacteria invades the blood stream causing bacteremia and/or the tissues and fluids of the brain and spinal cord causing meningitis.

Pneumococcus infections affect hundreds of thousands of people each year. Despite the use of antibiotics, there is still a mortality rate in the tens of thousands, mostly over 65 years of age.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention highly recommend vaccination for people:

65 and over.

With conditions that caused a weakened immune system such as cancer; diabetes; lung, cardiac, liver or kidney disease; organ transplant or alcoholism.

The best way to protect against pneumococcus bacteria is through vaccination which offers protection against 23 types of streptococcal pneumonia responsible for the vast majority of cases.

Some adults experience mild side effects. Most common are swelling and soreness at the injection site which usually resolves in less than 48 hours. A few adults have reported fever and muscle aches. There is a small risk that serious problems could happen, but allergic reactions are rare.

One single dose works for most people, giving life-long immunity. High risk people, including those with weakened immune systems, may need a second dose. The literature on this differs so it is best to discuss this with your physician.

You can check with your individual physician about availability and cost.

While the effectiveness of the vaccine in prevention of pneumonia is not conclusive at this point, there is data to support that vaccinations lessen severity of symptoms, reduces hospital stay, and mortality.

Mary Anne Molinari, RN, MN, GNCS-BC

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