Pneumonia

About the pneumonia vaccine  

Pneumonia is a common enough illness, but it’s one that can have potentially devastating reactions. Fortunately, there’s a way to prevent the serious side effects of the disease, and possibly prevent someone from getting it to begin with.

The pneumonia vaccine is a safe way to prevent most cases, and effectively lowers the chances of catching the disease entirely. People who do get pneumonia after getting the pneumonia vaccination anyway will have a much milder case of the disease if they do happen to contract it.

Who should get the pneumonia vaccine?

The pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine recommendations from the CDC are for all children younger than 2 years old and all adults 65 years or older.

In other situations, children and adults should also get pneumococcal vaccines such as people with weakened immune systems, people who smoke, heavy drinkers, or people getting over surgery or a severe illness.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The sacs may either fill with fluid or pus, causing a phlegmy cough, fever, chills and difficulty breathing.

Pneumonia is very contagious, and the effects of the illness can range in from mildly serious to life threatening. It is most serious for infants and young children, people older than age 65, and people with health problems or weakened immune systems.

Pneumonia can be found in one or both lungs, and you can also have the disease and not know it (commonly referred to as “walking pneumonia”). Factors such as smoking cigarettes and drinking too much alcohol can raise a person’s chances of getting pneumonia.

What causes pneumonia?

There are many types of germs that can cause pneumonia. However, there are five main causes of pneumonia:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Mycoplasma
  • Infectious agents, such as fungi (including pneumocystis)
  • Various chemicals

The most common causes are bacteria and viruses in the air we breathe. Pneumonia is classified according to the type of germ that caused the illness and where the infection was picked up.

Community-acquired pneumonia
Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia. It’s usually contracted near hospitals or other health care facilities from things like:

  • Bacteria. The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in the US is Streptococcus pneumoniae.
  • Bacteria-like organisms. Mycoplasma pneumoniae can also cause pneumonia and typically produces milder symptoms, also known as “walking pneumonia.”
  • Fungi. Most common in those with chronic health problems or weakened immune systems. Fungi can be found in soil or bird droppings and vary depending on location.
  • Some viruses that cause colds and the flu can cause pneumonia. This is the most common cause of pneumonia for children younger than 5.

Hospital-acquired pneumonia
There is a possibility of catching pneumonia during a hospital stay for a different illness. This can be serious, since the bacteria that causes it can be more resistant to antibiotics. People on breathing machines often used in intensive care units are at higher risk of getting this type.

Health care-acquired pneumonia
People living in long-term care facilities or who receive care in outpatient clinics are at risk of acquiring this type of sickness. Like hospital-acquired pneumonia, health care-acquired pneumonia can be caused by bacteria that are more resistant to antibiotics.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to severe. The symptoms depend on the type of germ that caused the infection, your age and overall health. Mild signs and symptoms of pneumonia are often similar the symptoms of a cold or flu, but the effects of pneumonia last longer.

Signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include:

  • Chest pain when you breathe or cough
  • Confusion or changes in mental awareness (in adults age 65 and older)
  • Cough, which may produce phlegm
  • Fatigue
  • Fever, sweating and shaking chills
  • Lower-than-normal body temperature (in adults older than age 65 and people with weak immune systems)
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath

Newborns and infants may not show any sign or symptoms of the infection. However, they may vomit, have a fever, cough, be restless or tired, or have difficulty breathing and eating.

How long does pneumonia last?

Pneumonia comes on relatively quickly and can hang around for about two weeks. However, it can stay around longer in young children, elderly adults, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses like obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma.

Pneumonia vaccine schedule    

The CDC pneumonia vaccine schedule recommends routine administration of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar13®) for children under 2 years of age.

  • PCV13 is given to infants as a series of 4 doses, one dose each at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 12–15 months. Children who miss their shots or start the series later should still get the vaccine. The number of doses recommended and the intervals between doses will depend on the child’s age when vaccination begins.

CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccination (PCV13 or Prevnar13®, and PPSV23 or Pneumovax23®) for all adults 65 years or older.

  • PCV13 is given to adults 65 years or older who have not previously received a dose. An additional dose of PPSV23 should be administered at least one year later. If you’ve already received one or more doses of PPSV23, you should be given a dose of PCV13 at least one year after your most recent dose of PPSV23.

Pneumonia vaccine side effects                 

Most people who get a pneumococcal vaccine do not experience many side effects. While there’s always a chance of side effects for any medication, the pneumonia vaccine side effects are usually mild and go away on their own after a few days, with serious reactions being rare.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine
Mild problems following pneumococcal conjugate vaccination can include:

  • Reactions at the injection site
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache
  • Chills

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine
Mild problems following pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccination can include:

  • Reactions where the shot was given
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches

If these problems occur, they usually go away within about two days.

Where to get the pneumonia vaccine

Thinking of getting a pneumonia vaccination? Pneumonia immunizations are available on a walk-in basis at Pharmaca. Contact your local Pharmaca pharmacy to schedule an appointment.