People of all ages can become sick with pneumonia. It is not uncommon to see many cases of pneumonia in the winter months. Unfortunately, the elderly who acquire pneumonia do not always fare as well as younger adults do. Complications from pneumonia in older adults are not uncommon, and over 90% of all deaths from pneumonia are in the older population.
You’ve heard it before – prevention is the best medicine! So, how can you prevent yourself from getting sick with pneumonia? There are all kinds of organisms that cause pneumonia, both viral and bacterial. Fortunately, we now have two vaccines that – combined – prevent a large percentage of the most lethal organisms that cause bacterial pneumonia in older adults.
The first vaccine – known locally as “Pneumovax” – has been around for about 30 years. That vaccine has helped many older adults to avoid certain types of bacterial pneumonia – but not all types of pneumonia. More recently, a second pneumonia vaccine – known as “Prevnar 13” has become available that targets different organism that cause bacterial pneumonia. When an older adult has received both vaccines according to the recommended schedule, they are at least partially or ideally fully protected against the most common lethal types of pneumonia.
It is recommended that adults age 65 and older first receive a single dose of the “Prevnar 13” vaccine. One year later, a dose of “Pneumovax” should be given. Of course, there may be variables that require you to receive a second dose of “Pneumovax” (for example if you received the dose before age 65) but your healthcare provider can sort that out for you. The two types of pneumonia vaccines should never be given at the same time. However, a seasonal flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine can be given at the same time, although it is not generally recommended. Unlike seasonal flu vaccine which is typically given in the fall and early winter months, pneumonia vaccine can be given any time of the year.
Side effects of the vaccine are similar to those of flu vaccine. The pneumonia shots are considered safe for most people, and cannot give you pneumonia. Talk to your health care provider about the pneumonia vaccines , and ask if it is a good time for you to begin the shots.
--contributed by Patricia Briest, RN, MS, FNP-BC., C.A.S. Nursing Education Nurse Manager for Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Wellness Programs at St. Joseph's Health