Pneumonia vaccine: your guide to recommendations - Primary Health

Pneumonia vaccine: your guide to recommendations

  • January 30, 2024

  • Primary.Health Editorial Team

  • 2 minutes

Considering the pneumonia vaccine? Take time to review its complex recommendations to find the right one for you.

Few vaccine recommendations seem as challenging to understand as the ones for pneumonia. So for today’s blog post, we will delve into what you need to know about getting the pneumonia vaccine.

First, consider that pneumonia can be caused by various organisms, including numerous bacteria and viruses. The vaccine in question is just for one such bacteria named Pneumococcus. For this reason, we refer to the vaccine as a Pneumococcal vaccine. Even within this bacteria, various subtypes referred to as ‘strains’ exist. The vaccine targets those strains that represent the greatest proportion of disease.

History of pneumonia vaccine rollout

Next, there are multiple vaccines available. The oldest vaccine available is a polysaccharide vaccine. This vaccine uses a sugar found in the outer layer of the bacteria to train our immune system to recognize the bacteria. This vaccine is commonly abbreviated as PPSV23 or simply referred to as Pneumovax. Children’s immune systems cannot respond adequately to a polysaccharide vaccine. To counter this, conjugate vaccines were developed where an antigen (like the sugar molecule) is attached to a harmless molecule that elicits a stronger response from the immune system. These vaccines are commonly abbreviated as PCV followed by the number of strains targeted by the vaccine. 

Until around 2021, the only vaccine available was the PCV13 (following the retirement of the older PCV7). Two more were approved in 2021: PCV15 and PCV20. Each new conjugate vaccine has gradually expanded the number if strains covered.

Factors affecting vaccine selection

Not surprisingly, this has led to a complicated set of recommendations based on age, risk factors, and prior history of vaccinations. Recommendations differ between children and adults. Some health conditions classified as risk factors include chronic diseases of the heart, lung, kidney, and liver, and others, like HIV and diabetes, to name a few. Smoking tobacco and alcoholism are also considered risk factors. In many situations, a clinician may recommend more than one vaccine.

 A complete list of individual situations is too long to compile for this blog post. Talk with your healthcare provider to work out your individual vaccine recommendation.

Disclaimer: This blog content and linked materials are not intended as individual medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be considered as such. Any readers with medical concerns should contact a licensed healthcare provider. This blog is provided for informational purposes only.

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