Pneumonia: Do You Need the Vaccine This Year?

Roni Shye
Roni Shye, PharmD BCGP BCACP, is a licensed pharmacist in the states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
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If you have had pneumonia then you know that you NEVER want to get it again. Pneumonia can put even a healthy adult down and out quicker than most infections. If you or someone you know is at high-risk for pneumonia, getting a pneumonia vaccine with your seasonal flu shot can help improve your chance of remaining healthy this year.

First, what is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It can be due to a virus, bacteria, or fungi, and can cause inflammation in the air sacs of one or both lungs.

Common signs and symptoms include fever, chills, cough with mucus, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, headache, nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches.

Who is at greatest risk for pneumonia?

Children younger than 2 and adults older than 65 have the highest risk for contracting pneumonia. Pneumonia can be life-threatening in these high risk age groups due to the weaker immune systems of young children and older adults.

Anyone with asthma, COPD, or diabetes is also at an increased risk for developing pneumonia.

I received my flu shot this year—will that protect me from pneumonia as well?

Yes and no. Pneumonia is often the result of the flu. By getting your flu vaccine you decrease your chance of getting the most common strains of the flu and ultimately, pneumonia.

However, there is also a pneumonia vaccine that can offer more protection if you are in one of those higher risk groups.

Who is the pneumonia vaccine for?

Which pneumonia vaccines are currently available?

There are two pneumonia vaccines, which are used for slightly different groups of people:

Prevnar 13, also known as PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine), is recommended for:

For more information on Prevnar 13 check out the manufacturer website here.

Pneumovax 23, also known as PPSV3 (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine), is recommended for:

For more information on Pneumovax 23 check out the manufacturer website here.

Can I get my pneumonia shot at the pharmacy?

Yes. Most states allow your local pharmacist to give you the pneumonia vaccine without a prescription.

Can I get the flu shot and pneumonia shot in the same visit?

Yes. Both Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23 are inactivated vaccines and can be given with any of the flu vaccines.

Will Medicare cover the pneumonia shot?

Yes. Medicare Part B will cover the cost of the pneumonia shot for adults 65 years of age and older.

For more information on Medicare and pneumonia vaccination, see the page here.

I’ve had the pneumonia vaccine—I’m protected now, right?
Not exactly. It’s important to note that Pneumovax only covers pneumonia from one type of bacteria: Strep pneumo or Streptococcus pneumoniae, not all pneumonias.

In fact, most pneumonias aren’t caused by Strep pneumo so it’s a common misconception that your Pneumovax has you covered when it comes to ANY pneumonia, which sadly is not the case.
So what else can I do to protect myself from pneumonia?

Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands, and keep your immune system strong through exercise and healthy eating. If you are a smoker, quitting will also greatly reduce your risk.

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