Doctor’s Tip: ‘Pneumonia shot’ can prevent serious illness, death |

Doctor’s Tip: ‘Pneumonia shot’ can prevent serious illness, death

Pneumococcal bacteria are present as part of the normal bacterial microbiome of the nose in many children and adults. However, in certain circumstances, such as when the body is weakened by influenza or other viral upper respiratory infections, pneumococci can cause serious and sometimes fatal illnesses, such as:

• Pneumonia, which even in the age of antibiotics still kills people.

• Meningitis, which can be fatal.

• Sepsis, which is an overwhelming blood infection that is often fatal.

• Bone and joint infections.

• Ear and sinus infections.

Certain conditions can make people more susceptible to severe pneumococcal infections:

• Very young and old age, particularly younger than 2 and older than 64.

• Absence of a spleen, usually due to trauma.

• Diseases such as chronic heart, liver and kidney disease; diabetes; asthma and emphysema.

• Weakened immune system such as occurs in cancer being treated with chemotherapy; HIV/AIDS; alcoholism.

• Medications that weaken the immune system such as long-term cortisone.

• Blood disorders such as sickle cell disease.

• Cochlear implants.

• Smoking.

There are several sub-types of pneumococcal bacteria. A few decades ago, vaccines were developed that are effective against many of these sub-types. Although the vaccines are not 100 percent effective, immunized people who come down with pneumococcal disease usually have less severe disease, with shorter courses, compared with non-immunized people.

PCV13 vaccine (brand name Prevenar) is given to children at ages 2, 4, 6 and 12-15 months of age. Children age 6-18 and adults age 19-65 should also be given the PCV13 if they have any of the risk factors listed in the second paragraph. All adults age 65 and older should receive the PCV13.

Another pneumococcal vaccine, called PPSV23 (brand name Pneumovax), should be given to all adults 65 and older; and to any adults younger than 65 if they have any of the above conditions.

Pneumonia shots can be obtained in most doctors’ offices, most pharmacies and county public health offices. It takes two to three weeks for them to “kick in.” Side effects other than minor arm aching are rare.

The bottom line is that to prevent serious illness and death from pneumococcal infections, and to prevent less serious illness such as pneumococcal ear and sinus infections: All children should receive four doses of PCV13. All adults 65 and older should receive PCV13 and the PPSV23 (Pneumovax), although not at the same visit.

If you are younger than 65 and have any of the conditions listed above, or if you have children with these conditions, check with your health provider or a public health nurse for recommendations. This information is also provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the internet.

Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at

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