Should I get a Pneumonia Shot?

A pneumonia shot is a vaccination that helps prevent pneumococcal disease, also called pneumonia, which is caused by the Streptococcuspneumoniae bacteria. The UK’s National Health Services (NHS) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other public health organizations around the world, recommend the pneumonia vaccine for most people. These groups typically stress that the very young, the elderly, and people with illnesses and suppressed immune systems should be vaccinated. Most organizations determine who needs a pneumonia shot first by age, and then by medical history.
Pneumonia is a very preventable disease that kills about 5% of the people who contract it in the US and other developed countries. Pneumonia vaccinations help protect people against about 23 different types of this bacteria. There is no guarantee that the shot will prevent pneumonia 100% of the time, but most people are well-protected within about three weeks of getting the vaccine.
The pneumonia shot is recommended for almost everyone as a preventative measure, but it is strongly suggested for those who are considered at risk. People over the age of two, who have chronic illnesses and conditions that lower the body’s immune response, are urged by organizations like the CDC and NHS to be immunized. People who use medications or therapies that lower the immune response, like radiation treatments or steroids, are also urged to get the pneumonia shot. Anyone 19 years old and up, who smokes or has asthma, may also benefit from the vaccine.
Fewer than 1% of the people who get this vaccine develop a severe reaction. This is much smaller than the percentage of people who typically die from pneumonia or its complications. Serious reactions generally include difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, high fever, hives, and changes in behavior. In very rare cases, an immunization has caused complications that led to death.
The best way to help prevent a severe reaction is to talk to a health care provider about the risks. People who are sensitive to any of the components in the vaccine may be advised to avoid it. Pregnant women, unless they are at a high risk for pneumonia, typically are not vaccinated. People who are currently ill will also be asked to wait until they recover, in most cases. Most people who have a reaction will only have mild redness and slight swelling or pain at the site of the pneumonia shot. Up to half of those who get the injection will have one or more of those very mild side effects.
Occasionally, a second pneumonia shot is necessary. People over 65 years of age, who were given the first shot more than five years prior, may get a second shot to help boost the vaccine’s effectiveness. People who have serious conditions like HIV infection or AIDS, sickle cell anemia, leukemia, and other immune-system suppressing conditions may opt to have a second injection five years after the first one. Anyone who had a severe reaction to their first pneumonia shot should avoid having a second injection.
Preventing pneumonia is often far easier than treating pneumonia, because of the complications the disease can cause and its growing resistance to antibiotics. Pneumonia can lead to serious lung, blood, and brain infections. Two complications, bacteremia and meningitis, kill two to six times as many people as pneumonia alone. It is important to weigh the potential benefits of the pneumonia shot against the low risk of side effects when deciding whether to get the vaccine.

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