Pneumococcal pneumonia sends about 150,000 Americans to the hospital each year, with a death rate of 5-7%. The rate is even higher for adults 65 years and older and people with compromised immune systems.
While the numbers are alarming, our board-certified family physicians and their team at Macomb Medical Clinic in Sterling Heights, Michigan, know there’s a good way to bring those numbers down — with the pneumococcal vaccine. Here’s what you need to know about the vaccine and when you should get it.
Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, which attacks different parts of your body. When it invades your lungs, it can cause pneumonia. When it invades your bloodstream, it can lead to sepsis. And when it invades the membrane covering your brain, it can cause meningitis. These are all serious conditions.
The bacterium is also responsible for milder conditions like otitis media, a common middle-ear infection in children, and sinusitis.
While anyone can get pneumococcal disease, some groups are at increased risk: children under 2 years of age, adults over 65, and both children and adults with underlying medical conditions that weaken your immune system, such as HIV and certain cancers, as well as chronic heart disease, lung disease, kidney or liver disease, and diabetes.
There are four different pneumococcal vaccines approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration. The first three are pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCVs), and the fourth is a pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV):
All have been proven to fight pneumococcal disease.
Doctors give PCV13 to children at 2, 4, 6, and 12-15 months old and to older children who need it. It helps protect against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria that cause serious disease in children and adults.
This vaccine was licensed by the FDA in 2010, based on the earlier success of PCV7. Studies show PCV13 causes your immune system to create antibodies against the bacteria causing disease, just as PCV7 did, only it protects against six more variants.
In one study, PCV7 protected more than 9 in 10 babies from pneumococcal disease, including pneumococcal pneumonia. These children also had fewer ear infections and fewer ear tubes placed.
In 2011, FDA licensed PCV13 for use in adults 50 years or older. A study in the Netherlands showed the vaccine protected 3 in 4 vaccinated individuals against invasive pneumococcal disease and 9 in 20 vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia.
Doctors give PCV15 to children at 2, 4, 6, and 12-15 months old and to older children who need it. Doctors also recommend it for adults 65 years or older. It helps protect against 15 types of pneumococcal bacteria that cause serious disease in adults.
In 2022, the FDA licensed PCV15 for use in children 6 weeks through 17 years, based on clinical trial data showing PCV15 causes the immune system to create antibodies similar to PCV13 and is safe to use for this population.
Doctors give PCV20 to adults 65 years or older and other adults at risk for pneumococcal pneumonia. It helps protect against 20 types of pneumococcal bacteria that cause serious disease in adults.
The FDA licensed both PCV15 and PCV20 for use in adults 18 years or older in 2021. Clinical trial data showed these vaccines both cause your body’s immune system to create antibodies and are safe for use in elderly populations.
Doctors give PPSV23 to children 2-18 years old who need it, as well as to adults who receive PCV15 or who have received PCV13. It helps protect against serious infections caused by 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria.
Studies of the vaccine show it protects 6-7 in 10 adults with healthy immune systems against invasive pneumococcal disease.
PCV13 and PCV15 are part of the routine childhood immunization schedule, so the best place to get the vaccine is at your doctor’s office. PCV20 and PPSV23 may be available through your doctor too, but you can also get vaccinated at most local pharmacies or public health departments.
If you have a child who needs a pneumococcal vaccine, or if you’re over 50 and haven’t yet gotten one, it’s time to schedule an appointment at Macomb Medical Clinic. Give us a call at 586-315-2393 today.