By Stefanie Black                                                                                               Pharmacist at Thrifty Foods Pharmacy

As most of us know, we are entering the peak of flu season; and this year especially, there has been a lot of news coverage about the flu and flu vaccine. But what a lot of people forget about is pneumonia and how to help to prevent it with the pneumococcal vaccine. Getting the pneumococcal vaccine is recommended to everyone 65 years and older to help protect against pneumonia.

There are 2 types of vaccines for pneumonia prevention in adults. Pneumococcal vaccines are given to children, as well but this article is focused on adult vaccination. The first is Pneumovax 23, which is publicly funded. The second is Prevnar 13, which is not covered for most people. Prevnar 13 is indicated for active immunization for the prevention of pneumonia and invasive pneumococcal disease caused by 13 types of S. pneumoniae (a bacterial cause of pneumonia). Pneumovax 23 covers against 23 types of S. pneumoniae. Because pneumonia can be caused by several different types of bacteria, viruses and less commonly fungi, the vaccines can only protect against some of the causes.

When should I get these vaccines? If you are 65 or older and you have never had a pneumococcal vaccine, receive Prevnar first followed by Pneumovax at least 8 weeks later. If you have previously been vaccinated with Pneumovax, wait 1 year before asking for Prevnar. After that, you no longer need any further pneumococcal vaccines.

The only people who require an additional Pneumovax shot are people with high risk for pneumococcal disease including persons with no spleen, HIV infection, leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, generalized malignancy, chronic renal failure, or other immunosuppressive conditions, and those receiving immunosuppressive chemotherapy (including long-term systemic corticosteroids). For this group of people, a one time booster with Pneumovax given at least 5 years after the first Pneumovax is recommended. Subsequent vaccination with Pneumovax after that does not offer more protection; therefore, revaccination is not recommended for most people.

We often get asked, why should I get this vaccine that I have to pay for that only covers 13 types, when I could get one for free the covers 23 types? Because the recommendation to give Prevnar in adults is relatively new, the provincial coverage for this vaccine has not yet been approved. Both vaccines have a role to play in prevention of pneumonia. Each vaccine works on a different part of the immune system. The 13 type vaccine provides better protection and better long term immunity. The 23 type provides a modest protection and is not long lasting.

Another great way to prevent pneumonia is to quit smoking! Talk to your pharmacist about smoking cessation options as well as vaccination.

Wishing you happy and healthy holidays!!!