What is Pneumovax and Why Do I Need It?

Q: What is Pneumovax and why do I need it?

A: Pneumovax is the brand name for the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, which doctors recommend seniors and other at-risk adults get to protect themselves from the pneumococcal disease, a serious health threat that can lead to death.

The pneumococcal vaccine prevents serious blood, brain, and lung infections due to the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Such infections are called pneumococcal disease -- they include pneumonia, meningitis and septicemia.

Many strains of Streptococcus pneumonia are resistant to currently used antibiotics. Infection with the bacteria is a leading cause of serious illness in adults and children worldwide. In the U.S. alone, more people die from pneumococcal disease each year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined.

The pneumococcal vaccine can be given at any time of the year and is recommended for the following adults: those age 65 or older; those age 19 to 64 who smoke or have asthma; people with lung, heart, liver, or kidney disease; those with a chronic disease or condition; people with a weakened immune system; patients who take medication that weaken the immune system; and those living in a nursing home or long-term care home.

A booster shot may be needed after five years. The doctor will recommend a second dose for adults between ages 19 and 64 who have: a damaged spleen or no spleen; kidney disease called nephritic syndrome; a weakened immune system due to medications such as chemotherapy drugs and long-term steroids; cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma; history of an organ or bone marrow transplant; HIV/AIDS; and Sickle cell disease.

Adults over age 65 who received pneumococcal vaccine before age 65 also need a booster shot if it has been more than five years since being vaccinated.

As with all vaccines, there can be minor reactions, including pain and redness at the injection site, headache, fatigue or a vague feeling of discomfort.

Today’s expert is Kimberly Brown, APNP, ThedaCare Physicians-New London.