You are using an older version of Internet Explorer that is not supported on this site. Please upgrade for the best experience.

The Final Word - Pneumonia Vaccine

April 08, 2016

Popular country singer Merle Haggard, 79, died on his birthday Wednesday.

The media has reported that Haggard died of “double pneumonia,” which he had been fighting since last year.

We don’t know if the country superstar had the vaccination to prevent pneumococcal disease – which can cause pneumonia, ear infections, meningitis, or bloodstream infection - but his death brings attention to the need for older adults to be sure they are adequately vaccinated.

“Pneumococcal disease may be preventable and there are vaccines that will protect you – both adults and children – from many of the most clinically important serotypes of pneumococcal bacteria that can cause serious illness,” said Dr. Daniel Skiest, chief of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center.

“Equally important is being vaccinated every year against influenza (the flu), which increases everyone’s risk of developing bacterial pneumonia, including pneumococcal disease,” he added.

Signs and symptoms

Pneumococcal pneumonia (lung infection) is the most common serious form of pneumococcal disease. Symptoms include:

• Fever and chills, often abrupt onset

• Cough, often with phlegm

• Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing

• Chest pain.

As many as 400,000 hospitalizations from pneumococcal pneumonia are estimated to occur annually in the United States. About five out of 100 people with non-invasive pneumococcal pneumonia will die from it, but that rate may be higher among the elderly.

Dr. Skiest said children with immune deficiencies and the elderly are at particularly high risk.

About the two vaccines

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13®) protects against the 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria that cause most of the severe illness in children and adults. The vaccine can also help prevent some ear infections. PCV13 is recommended for all children at 2, 4, 6, and 12 through 15 months old. PCV13 is also recommended for adults 19 years or older with certain high risk medical conditions and in all adults 65 years or older.

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23®) protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. It is recommended for all adults 65 years or older and for anyone who is 2 years or older at high risk for disease. PPSV23 is also recommended for adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes or who have asthma.

The final word

“My recommendation is if you are 65 or older, or if you have one of several conditions which place you at high risk for pneumonia, then you should ask your doctor about the vaccine. Parents should also talk with their child’s pediatrician about the vaccine and when it should be administered,” said Dr. Skiest.