There tends to be a greater emphasis on vaccination around flu season, when vaccines are already on everyone’s mind. Flu shots open the discussion for other vaccinations and protection against additional infections. Usually, these vaccines can be given at the same time by your pharmacist.

But infection by pneumococcal bacteria is a risk through the entire year – it doesn’t take a break once flu season is over! Don’t wait for flu season (and long lineups) to be vaccinated for pneumonia. Here is why you should ask your pharmacist if you are eligible and make an appointment.

What is pneumococcal pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection of one or both lungs. When caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, the infection is referred to as pneumococcal pneumonia. Like Influenza, this form of bacteria is spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing, close contact with others, or contact with infected surfaces.

Once it infects someone, the pneumococcal bacteria can spread to body areas that are normally sterile, causing what’s known as Invasive Pneumococcal Disease (IPD). This includes both infection of the blood (bacteremia) and infection of the brain (meningitis). IPD is severe, and is a leading cause of illness, hospitalization, and even death worldwide.

What are the risk factors of pneumonia?

Anyone can get infected with pneumonia, but certain patients are at much higher risk of infection, and for developing IPD. Those who are above the age of 50 have an increased risk of contracting the bacteria. Adults aged 18 and over with chronic health conditions can also have a higher risk of pneumonia infections.

There are certain conditions that also increase the risk of contracting pneumococcal disease:

• Patients with diabetes have 3x the risk

• Patients who smoke have 3-4x the risk

• Patients with chronic heart disease have 4-5x the risk

• Patients with asthma or COPD have 4-10x the risk

Pneumonia is the leading cause of hospitalization and death in older adults and those with chronic illness, but only forty-two percent of adults over the age of 65 have been immunized.

What can I do to prevent pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a vaccine preventable illness, meaning there are vaccines available to reduce the risk of infection. Treatment for pneumonia is limited, and antibiotic resistance is becoming a concern. Some strains of pneumonia have resistance to multiple antibiotics, making them exceptionally difficult to treat.

This is why prevention is more important than ever! The best option to reduce the risk of contracting streptococcal infections and developing IPD is by getting vaccinated.

Who is eligible for pneumococcal vaccines?

Pneumococcal vaccines are available to all adults 65 years and older. Adults between the ages of 50 and 64 with risk factors are also eligible for pneumococcal vaccines. Risk factors include chronic heart, kidney, lung, liver disease, diabetes, as well as people who smoke, take illicit drugs, or have a history of alcohol abuse. Anyone aged 18 years and older that has an immunocompromising condition is also eligible.

Why should I get vaccinated now?

For those over the age of 65, it’s important to consider vaccination for pneumonia. As you get older, your immune system will have trouble fighting illness the way it once did. If you had, or currently have, a condition that has weakened your immune system, then you will also be at greater risk for pneumonia. While the vaccine can’t prevent all cases of pneumonia, it will lower your chances of catching it. The symptoms of pneumonia are also much milder for those who opt to get vaccinated.

If you’ve never had a pneumococcal vaccine in the past, now is a great time to ask your pharmacist about it! And if you have received a pneumococcal vaccine before, you may be due for an update. Talk to your pharmacist to learn if you’re eligible for one of the newer vaccines to provide additional protection against pneumonia and invasive pneumococcal disease.