Pneumonia is common among seniors — especially in the cooler winter months when everyone spends a bit more time indoors. But there’s one way to help protect yourself and your loved ones from pneumonia: the pneumococcal vaccination. Currently, just 69% of senior adults in America are vaccinated against pneumonia, but this vaccine could reduce the chance of pneumonia and its deadly effects. Let’s learn more about the pneumococcal vaccination so you can determine whether or not you should get vaccinated.
There are over 90 different types of pneumococcus bacteria, which is what causes pneumonia. Luckily, there are 2 types of pneumonia vaccines currently available in the US to help fight the most common types of bacteria: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (Prevnar 13 or PVC13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (Pneumovax23 or PPSV23). These vaccines target different types of bacteria and were designed for different age groups.
- PCV13 was initially created for children and fights pneumonia caused by 13 severe types of bacteria. The vaccine is a series of 4 doses for kids and a single shot for adults. It is recommended for kids under 2 years and individuals over 2 with certain medical conditions. It was shown to protect 80% of babies and 45% of senior adults from pneumonia. It was also 75% effective at protecting seniors from invasive pneumococcal disease, or a pneumococcal infection that occurs outside the lungs.
- PPSV23 was developed for adults and fights pneumonia caused by 23 severe types of bacteria. It is recommended for seniors over 65 years old, individuals between 2 and 64 who have certain medications, and adults who smoke. This vaccine was proven to protect up to 85% of healthy adults from invasive pneumococcal disease.
Seniors should look to PPSV23 when considering the pneumonia vaccine; however, PCV13 can be administered in some cases, so talk to your doctor about which option is right for you.
These vaccines are typically offered at pharmacies, workplaces, community health clinics, and health departments.
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Vaccine Side Effects
As with any vaccine, the pneumonia vaccines do have some reported side effects. These are typically mild and usually go away on their own within a few days. These side effects include:
- Injection site pain and redness
- Muscle aches
Individuals at High Risk for Pneumonia
While many adults who get pneumonia will recover without any lasting side effects, a number of seniors die from pneumonia and pneumonia-related complications each year. Some of these deaths could be prevented through the vaccine. Individuals at particularly high risk of pneumonia should strongly consider getting the vaccine — or even both vaccines — if they haven’t already.
High risk individuals include those with:
- A cochlear implant
- Chronic kidney failure
- Cancer of the blood or metastatic cancer
- Organ transplantation
- A cerebrospinal fluid leak
- Sickle cell disease or other blood disorder
- Weakened immune system (due to COPD, heart disease, diabetes, etc.)
- A history of smoking or heavy drinking
Seniors who are at high risk of pneumonia usually receive the vaccine every 5 to 10 years. Of course, consult with your healthcare team to determine your risk of pneumonia and when you need to be vaccinated.
Pneumonia Vaccine Cost
Most private health insurance covers the cost of these vaccines. And all health insurance marketplace plans under the Affordable Care Act will cover them. Medicare Part B covers the cost of these vaccines when administered at least 12 months apart.
Out of pocket, PCV13 costs about $250 and PPSV23 costs about $135 — although you may be able to find a coupon through GoodRx to reduce the cost of the vaccine.
Should I Get the Vaccine?
So, to answer this question, we would say that older adults should get the vaccine. We think it’s a great way to reduce your risk of getting pneumonia. But if you are between the ages of 18 and 65, you may not need it.
No vaccine is perfect, so there is still a chance that you could get the vaccine and contract pneumonia. But you are more likely to have a much milder case if you’ve had a pneumonia vaccine. However, you should always talk with your healthcare provider about any potential risks you might have.
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Who Should Not Get the Vaccine?
There are individuals who should NOT get the vaccine. For example, anyone who has had a life-threatening allergic reaction to earlier variations of pneumonia vaccines (like PCV7) or any vaccine with diphtheria toxoid (like DTap).
When Should I Get the Vaccine?
Some illnesses are seasonal, like the flu. These types of illnesses often see a rise in vaccinations that corresponds with the seasons. However, there really isn’t a pneumonia season. While there is an uptick in cases during the winter because we all spend more time indoors, seniors contract pneumonia all year round. So, you can get the pneumonia vaccine at any time during the year. You could even pair your pneumonia shot with your flu shot! Just be sure to get the vaccines in different arms.
At Caring Senior Service, our caregivers are trained to look for signs of pneumonia and we know how to assist seniors who do contract the infection. Our Pneumonia Specialty Program is designed to support seniors with pneumonia as they recover at home. Reach out to a care team near you to learn more.