According to the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, around 18,000 adults over the age of 65 die every year from pneumococcal pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and meningitis. These infections are caused by pneumococcal bacteria, which can also cause ear and sinus infections.
The good news is that vaccines can prevent these illnesses. The CDC points to two vaccines that are available in the United States: the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine. A revised vaccination schedule from the 2015 Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that adults 65 and over get both shots.
Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine
The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is called PCV13 and is also known as Prevnar 13. This vaccine protects against 13 different types of pneumococcal bacteria. As with any medication, this vaccine has a chance of causing a reaction, but these are usually mild and go away on their own. Reactions may include a mild fever, fatigue, chills, headache, and muscle pain as well as pain, swelling, and redness where the shot was administered.
Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine
The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is called PPSV23 and is also known as Pneumovax 23. This vaccine protects against 23 different types of pneumococcal bacteria. Fewer than one out of 100 people experience a reaction from the vaccine, which may include a fever, muscle aches, or a local reaction where the shot was given.
When to Get the Vaccines
Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23 can’t be given at the same time, because they induce the immune response in different ways. In general, the Prevnar 13 vaccination is given first, and the Pneumovax 23 is then given 12 months later, although if someone has already received the Pneumovax 23 vaccine, they can get the Prevnar 13 after 12 months.
If you or your aging loved one is over 65 years old, talk to your doctor about these important vaccinations, both of which should be covered by health insurance or Medicare.