Pneumonia Vaccines and COPD
Last updated: October 2022
It is not uncommon to have New Year resolutions that center around health. This year, one of your New Year resolutions may be to get caught up on your vaccinations. One vaccine that is highly recommended for people with COPD is the pneumonia vaccine.
The following article will outline why this vaccine is important and highlight the two types of pneumonia vaccines available. As always, your specialist, doctor, nurse, or pharmacist can provide you with more individualized recommendations on whether you should receive this vaccine.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a very serious infection of the lungs caused by various bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It is a leading cause of death in the world. Examples of infections that cause pneumonia include:1
- Influenza virus
- COVID-19 virus
- Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae) bacteria
What is the link between pneumonia and COPD?
People with COPD are more likely to get pneumonia. In fact, in the first year of a COPD diagnosis, people are 16 times more likely to acquire pneumonia than those without COPD. In addition, COPD is the most common comorbidity in people with pneumonia. That means people with COPD have a higher risk of pneumonia compared to people with other conditions, such as diabetes or asthma. People with COPD who acquire pneumonia are at a higher risk of:2
- Severe pneumonia
- Admission to hospital
- Worse clinical outcomes
Other risk factors
There are other risk factors, in addition to COPD, that can increase the chance of acquiring pneumonia. These include:3
- Age - as people get over the age of 65, the risk of hospitalization due to pneumonia increases.
- Medical conditions - heart failure, diabetes, asthma, history of stroke, and conditions that affect the immune system can all increase the risk of pneumonia.
- Smoking & alcohol abuse - people who smoke and/or engage in heavy alcohol consumption are also at a higher risk of pneumonia.
One study examined the pathogen, or cause, of pneumonia in people with COPD and found that the most frequent organism identified was the S. pneumoniae bacteria.2
Just like there are vaccines to protect you against COVID-19 and the flu, there are vaccines to protect you against the bacteria that commonly cause pneumonia. There are 2 available vaccines for this:4
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) - also known as Prevnar 13
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) - also known as Pneumovax 23
The difference between the two vaccines is the number of bacteria strains they protect against. Pneumovax protects against 23 different strains, while Prevnar protects against 13.3
Which vaccine should I get?
Most people get the Prevnar vaccine as children and Pneumovax as seniors. People with COPD should get a dose of Pneumovax in their adult years. You may be suggested to get the Prevnar vaccine as well if you have other medical conditions that warrant it.3
Depending on where you live, Pneumovax may be publicly funded for seniors, meaning that you do not need to pay for the vaccine.
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