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The Healthy Living Magazine

How Can Pneumococcal Disease Be Prevented?

The most important step you can take in preventing pneumococcal infection is to get vaccinated. There are two vaccines available in the U.S.

gorovits/Thinkstock (syringe)

1. PCV13 (Prevnar 13®) vaccine

Short for pneumococcal conjugate vaccine—protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. It is given as a single-dose vaccine for adults, and in four small doses to babies: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 12–15 months of age. The CDC recommends this vaccine for:

  • Children under the age of 2
  • Adults 65 and older
  • People 2 to 64 years of age who also:
  • Have a chronic disease, such as diabetes; heart, liver, kidney, or lung disease; or alcoholism
  • Have health issues that weaken their immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, or a damaged or absent spleen
  • Have cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid leaks
  • Smoke

2. PPSV23 (Pneumovax23®) vaccine

Short for pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine—protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. It is a single-dose shot. The CDC recommends this vaccine for:

  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Adults 19 to 64 years of age who smoke cigarettes
  • People 2 to 64 years of age who also:
  • Have chronic diseases, such as diabetes; heart, liver, kidney, or lung disease; or alcoholism
  • Have health issues that weaken their immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, or a damaged or absent spleen
  • Have cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid leaks

“We like people to get immunized with both of these,” says Sloan. Talk to your health care provider about getting one vaccine, waiting a year, and then getting the second immunization. 

Vaccines are safe and effective ways to protect your health. Research shows that getting at least one dose of the PCV13 vaccine protects at least 80 percent of babies from invasive pneumococcal disease, 75 percent of seniors from invasive pneumococcal disease, and 45 percent of seniors from pneumonia. Research also shows that a dose of the PPSV23 vaccine protects 50 to 85 percent of healthy adults from invasive pneumococcal disease.

Getting vaccinated isn’t the only way to boost your chances of fighting off pneumococcal disease. Managing your diabetes is also key. Keeping your blood glucose levels in your target range keeps your immune system in fighting shape. Managing diabetes complications, such as heart disease or kidney disease, will also lower your risk of developing pneumococcal disease and helps you fight other infections.

If you smoke, the best thing you can do to protect your health is to quit smoking. Learn more and get tools to quit by calling 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) or visiting smokefree.gov.

Vaccination Rates: Missing Key Groups

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent pneumococcal disease. But many people who are most at risk for infection are not getting immunized. “There is still a great need for all people with diabetes to be vaccinated,” says Sandra Weber, MD, FACP, FACE, president-elect of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, professor of medicine, University of South Carolina School of Medicine-Greenville, and chief of the Division of Endocrinology at Greenville Health System. “We’re facing an educational component of ‘what is pneumococcal vaccine’ in the general population, and the importance of it for the population with diabetes.”

According to the CDC, less than 70 percent of seniors 65 and older have received one of the vaccines. Among seniors with diabetes, 74 percent of people 75 and older had received a pneumococcal vaccine. But only 60 percent of people ages 60 to 74 were vaccinated.

Younger people are also less likely than older people to get vaccinated. Less than 28 percent of people ages 18 to 44 have been vaccinated, and less than 40 percent of people 45 to 59 have.

A CDC report from 2016 shows vaccination rates also vary by race:

  • Hispanic: 36.8%
  • Non-Hispanic White: 60.1%
  • Non-Hispanic Black: 40.8%
  • Non-Hispanic Asian: 44.3%
 

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