While flu season and the corresponding flu vaccine are sure to grab headlines this time of year, another type of vaccine should also be on your radar. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 900,000 Americans get pneumococcal pneumonia each year, which is just one ailment the pneumococcal vaccine helps prevent.
1. What else does the pneumococcal vaccine help prevent?
Pneumococcus is a type of bacteria that can cause a number of different pneumococcal illnesses, in addition to pneumonia, like: meningitis, bloodstream infections and other respiratory infections, said Marshfield Clinic Family Medicine physician Dr. Nathaniel Stepp. The pneumococcal vaccine protects against these illnesses.
“The pneumococcal vaccine does not protect you against all types of respiratory infections, but it does protect you from some of the more severe kinds of infections,” Stepp said. He noted that pneumococcal diseases are transmitted by coughing, sneezing and physical contact.
2. Who should and should not get the pneumococcal vaccine?
Typically, young children and anyone over the age of 65 should receive a pneumococcal vaccine, said Stepp. In addition, young adults should receive the vaccine around the age of 19 if they have chronic medical conditions like asthma, other lung diseases, heart disease, diabetes or liver disorders. Young adults who smoke should also be vaccinated.
There are two versions of the vaccine, called PCV13 and PPSV23. Your provider will choose the appropriate vaccine for you. According to the CDC, people who should not receive these vaccines are those who have had previous life-threatening reactions to them or have severe allergies to any component of the vaccines.
3. Who is most at risk for pneumococcal diseases?
Stepp pointed to the following groups as most at risk for getting a pneumococcal disease:
- Those with weakened immune systems
- Young children
- People who smoke
- People who have had the flu
- Those over age 65
- People with diabetes
- Patients with pre-existing lung diseases
4. Misconceptions about getting vaccinated
“Health care providers have to overcome a lot of barriers when people have misinformation and misconceptions about vaccines,” Stepp said. “Many people have strong feelings against vaccines. However, the reason we don’t have polio or smallpox anymore is because of vaccines and specifically the widespread vaccination that led to ‘herd immunity,’” Stepp said.
Herd immunity happens when enough people in a community are vaccinated against a disease such that the disease is unable to cause a large-scale outbreak. Over time, herd immunity prevents the virus from taking hold anywhere and works its way out of the population.
Stepp said with the advent of pneumococcal vaccines, “Cases of pneumococcal pneumonia, in addition to streptococcal sinus infections and ear infections have dropped by between 70-90 percent.”
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