Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs. Its cause may be from a bacterial infection, virus, fungi, parasites or a chemical or physical injury to the lungs. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are a half-million cases of pneumonia each year, and 50,000 people die. Fifty percent of those deaths are people 65 years and older and could have been prevented with the pneumonia vaccine.
Who Should Get the Vaccine?
It is best to get the shot before age 65, since the effects are greater the younger you are. However, if you have not been vaccinated and you are 65 years or older, you should have the vaccine, even if you have had pneumonia before. If you are not sure if you have had the shot, it is still safe to get one. Children 2 years of age or older who have long-term health issues like heart disease or diabetes or have a condition that lowers the body's resistance to infection (such as kidney failure, leukemia or radiation) need to get the shot, as well. Certain Native American and Alaskan native populations are also recommended to receive the vaccination.
How Often Do I Need the Vaccine?
The CDC says that it is not clear how long the vaccine lasts. Younger patients who receive a pneumonia shot are frequently advised to get a second dose five or 10 years later, but there is concern that the subsequent doses may not provide as much immunity. If you are 65 or older, you will need only one shot. For those who are younger, you may need a booster. Consult with your doctor to be sure.
The pneumonia shot does not prevent all types of pneumonia, but it is effective in protecting people from the more aggressive pneumococcal diseases. Infectious disease expert Dr. Pierce Gardner says the risk of getting pneumonia goes up significantly around the age of 50. As a result, he favors having the recommended age for the pneumonia vaccine changed from 65 to 50. This recommendation is still being reviewed by the CDC.