The pneumonia vaccines are about more than pneumonia.
This post was updated on .
There are two pneumonia vaccines: Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax. Pneumovax came first (but they recommend being vaccinated with Prevnar 13 first for some reason). Prevnar 13 is more proprietary, and probably more advertized and expensive as a result. The prices of both vaccines have risen a lot since I first assessed their costs in 2009.
Anyway, pneumonia is a condition that affects the lungs. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or chemicals.
The pneumonia vaccines help protect against bacterial pneumonia by vaccinating against bacteria that can cause it.
Prevnar 13 vaccinates against 13 kinds of pneumococcal bacteria.
Pneumovax vaccinates against 23 kinds of pneumococcal bacteria.
However, pneumococcal bacteria can be responsible for a lot more than pneumonia. The vaccines may lessen your likelihood to get sinus problems, ear infections, COPD complications, meningitis, endocarditis, and I assume other things.
It should also be noted that the protection is nice if you get viral pneumonia, since bacterial pneumonia is often a complication of viral pneumonia. This is especially helpful if you get the bird flu or something (which is known to kill about 60% of the humans it infects, and what happens is the people get viral pneumonia, and many of those probably get bacterial pneumonia with it). There's no bird flu vaccine to my offhand knowledge, but there is a bacterial pneumonia vaccine, and it will probably increase your chance of survival, should the bird flu evolve to spread from human to human (humans can currently get it from birds, but not other people, exactly). FYI: Most birds that get it die, too, so I've read. Some people act as if the bird flu has already struck and that the scare there is over. Nope; it hasn't; sure, some people got it from birds (but most people aren't exposed to sick birds: it hasn't been a pandemic, yet, and hopefully it won't be for a long time, if at all). The scare years ago was about what might happen (not what was happening).
Basically, if you know what's good for you, you'll probably want to get these vaccines. Your need for antibiotics throughout your life will probably be reduced greatly. You may save loads of money. You'll be less likely to make other people sick. You may be more confident when epidemics strike. Sure, you may still catch whatever is going around, but at least you'll be less likely to get bacterial pneumonia as a complication.
Do not confuse these vaccines with the flu shot. They are not the same thing. The flu changes a lot; so, we need lots of kinds of flu shots. However, you only need the pneumonia vaccines once before you're 65 and once afterward. You don't need them yearly, as with a flu shot.
You may not realize it, but pneumococcal bacteria do spread from person to person, and colonize them. I don't believe this necessarily causes illness, but if you're colonized, you're probably more likely to get additional illness when you get sick. You probably don't want to colonize everyone you meet.
The disappointing truth, however, is that they only recommend that people who are most at risk from pneumonia get the shot. Nevermind that a high percentage of people who aren't in the target age groups get pneumonia, ear infections, sinus problems, meningitis, etc. Nevermind that probably most people have used antibiotics when they've been sick from the flu at some point in their lives (and many might not have needed them had they been vaccinated). I think they should make these vaccines in the same recommendation class as MMR, tetanus, and all that. Actually, I think it should take priority over those (but I don't think the emphasis on those should go down).
Location: SW Idaho, USA
USDA hardiness zone: 6
Elevation: 2,260 feet Profile post