Are Vaccines effective in preventing Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs which causes various complications including death. For over a century, vaccines have been used to overcome various viral and bacterial infections. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of vaccines in disease prevention. Vaccines for pneumonia are quite effective and are widely prescribed in the US and other countries. In this article, we will understand pneumonia and its vaccine in depth.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that is generally mistaken for flu. It causes mild to severe illness across age-groups of people. Lungs get filled with fluid or pus which causes inflammation there. Symptoms are similar to that of flu, but pneumonia can last longer and cause serious complications. Signs and symptoms include trouble breathing, fever, cough, tightness in the chest and loss of appetite. It is common in young children and older adults who have major health conditions or a weakened immune system. It is fairly common in the winter months and is mistaken for flu. However, it can be more deadly than flu and can be life-threatening to some people.
Pneumonia can be caused by a wide range of bacteria, viruses or fungi. This includes influenza virus (flu viris), RSV or respiratory syncytial virus, the virus that causes COVID-19 which is SARS-CoV-2, Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV) Infection, Rhinovirus Infection, Legionnaires’ disease, Human Parainfluenza Virus (HPIV) Infection, Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Pneumocystis Pneumonia. However, most often, pneumonia is caused by a specific bacteria called streptococcus pneumoniae. And this condition is called pneumococcal pneumonia (PP).
Pneumonia can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Duration of the course will depend on type of pneumonia and how severe it is. But preventing pneumonia is a better option and this is where vaccines come into the picture. Vaccines have been used for over a century to prevent chickenpox (caused by varicella virus), influenza (flu virus), measles, haemophilus influenzae typeb (Hib), pertussis or whooping cough, pneumococcal pneumonia and COVID.
The pneumonia vaccine cannot prevent a pneumonia-outbreak in every individual who is vaccinated. However, those who develop pneumonia in-spite of the vaccine will have mild symptoms.
Also Read: Why are vaccines for pneumonia important for elderly?
Types of Pneumonia
There are several ways in which one can contract pneumonia. Prominent are:
- Community-acquired pneumonia: Here, the person develops pneumonia by interaction within the community (friends, family and neighbourhood).
- Healthcare-associated pneumonia: The person develops pneumonia during or after staying in a hospital, dialysis centre, or any long-term healthcare facility.
- Ventilator-associated pneumonia: As the name implies, the person develops pneumonia after being put on a ventilator to support his/her breathing.
The difference between the above types comes from the fact that different sets of bacteria and viruses cause each of these types.
Risk factors for Pneumonia
- Age: Being 65 years or older, or younger than 5 years
- People with medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and HIV or AIDS
- People who smoke tobacco in any form: This is because the tiny hairs that line the lungs, and filter out germs are damaged in smokers.
- Patients who have undergone chemotherapy for cancer, recently
- People who have had an organ transplant in the recent past
- Those who consume alcohol heavily
- People recovering from a serious illness or surgery
Types of Pneumonia Vaccines
- Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine or PCV: In the past, PCV7 was being used but today, the most common version of this vaccine is PCV13. It protects people against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. This vaccine is used to protect infants, children younger than 5 years, older children who have certain medical conditions, adults in the age-group of 19-64 years who have a weakened immune system due to kidney disease, HIV infection, lymphoma, organ transplant or leukaemia, and all adults over 65 years of age. Other versions include PCV15 and PCV20.
- Pneumococcal Poly Saccharide Vaccine or PPSV: The most common version is PPSV23 and it protects people from over 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. This is given to children above 2 years of age who are at high risk for pneumonia, adults in the age-group of 19-64 years who smoke or have a respiratory disease like asthma, and all adults over 65 years of age.
One shot of the above vaccines is given to the target group and this is enough for life-long protection. However, if there is any change in the medical condition of the person, a booster dose is given. Consult a doctor before going in for the Pneumonia vaccine.
Who should not get the Vaccine?
- Children younger than 2 years of age should not be given PPSV23.
- Children or teenager younger than 19 years of age should not be given PCV15 or PCV20.
- If the adult has had a severe allergic reaction after taking any of the PCV vaccines (PCV7, PCV13, PCV15 or PCV20), he/she should not be given the booster dose.
- If the adult had a severe allergic reaction to any vaccine containing diphtheria toxoid (for example, DTaP), he/she should not be given PCV.
- If the adult or child had a severe allergic reaction to PPSV23, a second attempt should not be made or a booster dose not to be given.
- Any child or adult who has had a severe, life-threatening allergy to any substance used in these vaccines, he/she should not be given the same. The doctor will investigate existing allergies of the person before recommending the right vaccine.
- Any child or adult who is currently battling a severe illness will not be given either vaccine. He/she must recover completely before vaccination.
Also Read: THE VIRAL PNEUMONIAS THIS SEASON
Risks from the vaccine
For other than people mentioned in the above list, pneumonia vaccines are completely safe. An extract of the bacteria is used in making the vaccine and not the entire bacteria itself. So, the risk of contracting pneumonia is not there. There are mild reactions, which are normal with any vaccine. This includes:
- Mild fever
- Sore muscles
- Swelling, soreness, or redness where one gets the shot
- Being irritable or fussy
- Loss of appetite
In fact, less than 1% of vaccinated people show these side-effects. Allergic reactions are even rarer.
Efficacy of these vaccines
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agency in the US licensed the first pneumonia vaccine – PCV7- in the year 2000 and since then, it has been licensing other variations and the PPSV vaccines after clinical trial results are shared with them. Innumerable trials and studies done thereafter in the US and other parts of the world have established the efficacy of these vaccines in preventing both pneumococcal pneumonia and invasive pneumococcal disease. They have shown good results in infants, young children, adults and seniors alike. All variations of these vaccines help the body’s immune system produce antibodies that fight the pneumococcal bacteria successfully.
If you would like to get the pneumonia vaccine, consult a reputed hospital in your city. After preliminary investigation by doctors, you will be administered the vaccine relevant for you.
Reviewed by Dr Suresh S Venkita, Group Medical Director, Kauvery Hospitals
Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur, Salem and Bengaluru, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.
Chennai – 044 4000 6000 • Trichy – Cantonment – 0431 4077777 • Trichy – Heartcity – 0431 4003500 • Trichy – Tennur – 0431 4022555 • Hosur – 04344 272727 • Salem – 0427 2677777 • Tirunelveli – 0462 4006000 • Bengaluru – 080 6801 6801
- Jan 04, 2023