COPD and the Pneumonia Vaccine: What You Need to Know

This one shot could prevent a dangerous disease

A woman receives a vaccine.
A woman receives a vaccine. Jeffrey Hamilton/Getty Images

Pneumococcal pneumonia is potentially life-threatening lung disease caused by a particular bacteria: Streptococcus pneumoniae. It's very dangerous, and in fact kills about one in every 20 people diagnosed with it.

People with COPD are at greater risk for developing pneumococcal pneumonia, as are those with other chronic health conditions, including alcoholism, heart disease, other types of lung disease, kidney failure, diabetes, HIV and certain types of cancer.

While anyone can get pneumococcal pneumonia, it usually affects children under 2 years old and adults, 65 years of age and older. It also affects many people with chronic lung disease, and people with impaired immune systems. Smokers are at increased risk.

In people with COPD, pneumococcal pneumonia is one of the most common infections. Therefore, it's important to prevent it.

How Can I Prevent Pneumococcal Pneumonia?

There are two vaccines on the market that can protect you against pneumococcal pneumonia: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (also known as PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (known as PPSV23).

Although there's some debate about which vaccines are most effective in people with COPD, the current recommendation is that those with COPD should get PPSV23, which is intended for people at high risk of pneumococcal pneumonia.

The PPSV23 vaccine helps protect you against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria.

Other groups that should get the PPSV23 vaccine include all adults over age 65, current smokers, people who have asthma, and children over age two who have certain chronic illnesses or a condition that lowers their immunity.

While most healthy people will develop protection from pneumococcal pneumonia within several weeks of receiving the shot, people in the high risk groups, such as the elderly, children under two years of age, or those with certain illnesses may not respond as well, or at all, to the vaccine.

In most cases, one dose of the vaccine will cover you. However, medical experts do recommend booster shots of the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine for certain people. Talk to your doctor about whether you should get a booster shot, and when.

What Risks Are Associated with the Shot?

The pneumococcal vaccine has few reported serious side effects. It's pretty common to have redness and some pain at the injection site — about half the people who get the shot have this reaction, so don't be concerned if it happens to you.

Less than 1% of those who get the vaccine develop a fever, muscle aches or more serious, local reactions. Severe allergic reactions — including hives, difficulty breathing, swelling in the lips, face, tongue and throat, and shock — have been reported, but they're very rare.

If you have an unusual reaction to the vaccine or any concerns, call your doctor and have it checked out. If you're having trouble breathing, go to the emergency room.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal Vaccination fact sheet. Accessed Jan. 15, 2016.

Gómez-Junyent J et al. Clinical Features, Etiology and Outcomes of Community-Acquired Pneumonia in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. PLoS One. 2014; 9(8): e105854. Published online 2014 Aug 28.

Immunization Action Coalition. Ask the Experts: Pneumococcal Vaccines (PCV13 and PPSV23) fact sheet. Accessed Jan. 15, 2016.

Obert J et al. Pneumococcal infections: association with asthma and COPD. Médecine et Maladies Infectieuses. 2012 May;42(5):188-92.

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