If you’re a baby boomer, you’ve heard about the importance of getting your flu vaccine every year. However, you may be less familiar with how you can help protect yourself against other vaccine-preventable respiratory diseases like pneumococcal pneumonia.
“Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common bacterial pneumonia occurring in adults. It is a serious disease, which can take you out of your routine for weeks and in serious cases, lead to hospitalization,” said Dr. Vincenza Snow, Senior Medical Director for Vaccines, US Medical Affairs Lead at Pfizer. “In fact, those 65 and older are over 10 times more likely than individuals aged 18 to 49 to be hospitalized for this potentially life-threatening illness.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults 65 or older talk to their healthcare provider about whether vaccination against pneumococcal pneumonia is right for them. Dr. Snow addressed some common questions about the disease and vaccination:
Q: Is pneumococcal pneumonia the same as the flu?
Dr. Snow: The flu is caused by a virus, while pneumococcal pneumonia is a bacterial lung infection. They can have similar symptoms, but the most common ones associated with pneumococcal pneumonia are coughing, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, shaking chills, high fever, and/or chest pain. Even after symptoms subside, fatigue and other physical effects can be felt for weeks afterward.
Q: Can it only be caught during the fall or winter?
Dr. Snow: Pneumococcal pneumonia is spread through coughing or close contact and can be contracted at any time of the year.
Q: I’m healthy. Do I need vaccination against pneumococcal pneumonia?
Dr. Snow: As we age, our immune systems naturally weaken, making us more susceptible to disease. That’s true even for those who are young at heart, live active lifestyles, and take excellent care of themselves. That’s partly why adults 65 and older are more likely to be hospitalized from pneumococcal pneumonia than younger adults. Further, the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia is greater if you smoke or suffer from chronic conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, heart disease, or diabetes.
Q: Can pneumococcal pneumonia be contracted from pneumococcal vaccination?
Dr. Snow: You cannot catch pneumococcal pneumonia from vaccination, as it contains no live bacteria. The CDC recommends vaccination as the most effective way to protect yourself against the disease.
Q: Should I get vaccinated?
Dr. Snow: Flu season is a good time to talk to your healthcare provider about recommended adult vaccinations, including those that help protect against pneumococcal pneumonia. There are states that do allow you to receive pneumococcal vaccination without a prescription at your local pharmacy or public health center.