CDC urges vaccinations against pneumonia for people age 65+

A doctor administers a shot to a patient.

Each year we’re urged to get a flu shot to reduce our chances of catching influenza and spreading it to others. Many of us now are advised to consider vaccinating ourselves against pneumonia too.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can cause mild to severe illness in people of all ages. Depending on the cause, pneumonia can often be treated with medicine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines can prevent some types of pneumonia.1

Forget the old saying about catching pneumonia because you went outside with wet hair. The CDC says pneumonia is caused by certain bacteria, viruses and fungi.2 Complications from other illnesses—even the cold or flu—can lead to pneumonia.3 People over 65 are among the groups at greater risk of developing pneumonia, as are smokers, those with ongoing medical issues, and children under 5.4

It’s important to note that not all strains of pneumonia are the same. Because pneumonia can develop from a variety of causes, pneumonia vaccines are only effective against some of them. Once you have pneumonia, antibiotics are the most common form of treatment.

The CDC has issued recommendations for adults 65 or older for 2 types of vaccines that guard against pneumonia. Specifically, the vaccines are designed to help prevent pneumococcal disease, an infection caused by certain bacteria that can lead to pneumonia. Both vaccines are safe and effective, but they can’t be given at the same time.

Here’s a summary of the CDC’s recommendations.5

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23)

CDC recommends all adults 65 years or older get a shot of PPSV23.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13)

CDC recommends adults 65 years or older get a shot of PCV13 if they have never received a dose and have a:

  • Condition that weakens the immune system
  • Cerebrospinal fluid leak
  • Cochlear implant

These recommendations were updated in late 2019 after some good news emerged concerning pneumonia. According to the CDC, use of the PCV13 vaccine in children has led to sharp declines in pneumococcal disease in both children and adults. As a result, the CDC changed its guidelines to reduce routine PCV13 vaccinations for adults over 65. Now only those who meet the criteria listed above need to have the PCV13 shot.6

Sources:

  1. Pneumonia, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed Jan. 12, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/, opens new window.
  2. “Pneumonia Can Be Prevented—Vaccines Can Help,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed Jan. 12, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/prevention.html, opens new window.
  3. “Causes of Pneumonia,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed Jan. 12, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/causes.html, opens new window.
  4. “Pneumonia Can Be Prevented.”
  5. “Pneumonia Can Be Prevented.”
  6. Almea Matanock, et al, “Use of 13-Valent Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine and 23-Valent Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine Among Adults Aged ≥65 Years: Updated Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (November 22, 2019): 68(46): 1069–1075. Last accessed Jan. 12, 2020, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6846a5, opens new window.