There are vaccines available to help prevent pneumonia caused by bacteria, but not pneumonia caused by a virus. The bacterial pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine helps protect people against several strains of streptococcal pneumonia (‘strep’) bacteria.
There are 2 vaccines available for prevention of pneumococcal disease.
Prevnar 13 – Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (at cost)
Pneumovax 23 – Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (provided free to those at high risk and over 65)
Which vaccine is best for you?
Vaccinations should be administered following a detailed assessment looking at age, medical conditions, contacts and other disease specific risk factors. Here is a general recommendation of who should receive Prevnar 13 and or Pneumovax.
Prevnar 13 - Administered once – no booster recommended at this time. Recommended for adults over the age of 50. Talk to your pharmacy about costs. This vaccine is not provided for free in B.C. It costs about $125/dose and can be purchased at some pharmacies and travel clinics. Call ahead to ask about vaccine availability
Pneumovax 23 - Administered every 5-10 years and 1 dose after the age of 65. Indicated for adults over 2 years of age with specific medical conditions and adults over age 65. The cost of this vaccine is covered for those indicated. Call your doctor, pharmacy or a travel clinic in advance to ask about vaccine availability.
What are the protection features of each vaccine?
Prevnar 13 is a conjugate vaccine which means it provides a more “robust” immune response. It provides protection against infection in the lungs and subsequently protection against invasive disease. It also reduces “carriage” of the pathogen in the nose and throat preventing spread to others who may be at high risk.
Pneumovax 23 is a polysaccharide which means it provides a less “robust immune response”. It does not provide sufficient protection to prevent pathogens from entering the lungs. It does however, provide protection against more disease causing strains, and against “invasive disease”.
What if I need BOTH vaccines? For those needing both vaccines (over 50 with certain conditions and over 65) – the Prevnar 13 vaccine should be given first and the Pneumovax 23 a minimum of 8 weeks later. If you have already received Pneumovax 23, you will need to wait at least 1 year until getting Prevnar 13.
I am over 50 years of age with no underlying medical conditions. Do I need vaccination against Pneumococcal Disease? Even if you have no underlying medical conditions, you are still at risk of pneumococcal disease infection. In fact those over 50 account for a portion of pneumococcal disease hospitalizations in the country even when they do not have any underlying medical conditions. If you are hospitalized for a pneumococcal infection, there is a possibility that there may be a long lasting impact to your health status. Pneumococcal disease is one of the leading causes of disability. It is best not to delay immunization, as your immune response will not be as optimal if you receive the vaccination at an older age.
What if I have had a vaccination against pneumonia before, and I don’t know if it was Prevnar 13 or Pneumovax 23? If you have received vaccinations in the past it is best to check with your immunization provider(s) for complete records. Unfortunately, there is no central immunization database at this time, your records will be with the provider of your immunizations (doctors office, pharmacy, or health unit). If you are unsure of which vaccine you have received, it may be helpful to know that pneumovax 23 is publicly funded and administered at no charge. If you did not pay for your pneumonia vaccine, then it is most likely pneumovax 23. If you purchased your pneumonia vaccine from a pharmacy or travel clinic then it is most likely Prevnar 13. Once again, it is best to double check with your immunization provider to be certain which vaccine you have received.
Will the Pneumococcal Vaccination Protect me against COVID-19? While COVID-19 can spread to the lungs, causing pneumonia, it is not susceptible to antibodies produced after vaccination against pneumococcal disease. Therefore, the pneumococcal vaccination does not provide direct protection against the SARS-COV-2 Virus. However, indirect protection from other pathogens that can cause disease may reduce risk of illness and hospitalization during the pandemic. Furthermore, the SARS- COV-2 virus can “co-infect” with other pathogens such as the bacteria which can cause pneumococcal disease. Vaccinating against pneumococcal disease pathogens may reduce the impact and complications of a COVID-19 infection.
Written By: Ajit Johal RPh BSP BCPP CTH Clinical Director Immunize.io