The Vaccine Doctors Want Every Single Person Over 65 to Get ASAP

Woman over 60 getting vaccinated

You’ve probably gotten your flu shot, the latest COVID jab and maybe the shingles vaccine. But, there’s another shot that you should add to your health to-do list if you’re over 65: the pneumococcal vaccine.

The pneumococcal vaccine targets pneumococcal disease, a bacteria-causing infection that can lead to several different conditions, from sinusitis to meningitis. Older adults are at a high risk of serious illness and even death from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As we get older, our immune system is not as sharp as it once was,” says family physician Dr. Jesus Lizarzaburu, MD, who’s based in Yorktown, Virginia. “Therefore, we become more susceptible to many types of infections. Vaccines seem to help improve our immunity.”

Pneumococcal vaccines aren’t new. They’re safe, and everyone over 65 should get one, he adds. Adults under 65 who have chronic health conditions, like asthma, diabetes and chronic pulmonary disease, should also get vaccinated. Here’s what you should know about pneumococcal disease and the vaccine targeting it.

What Is Pneumococcal Disease Exactly?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacteria streptococcal pneumonia, which can live in the respiratory systems of healthy people, explains Peter Gulick, DO, a Lansing, Michigan-based osteopathic physician specializing in internal medicine and infectious diseases. But, you can spread it to other people by sneezing, coughing, sharing objects, touching or kissing—and, it can make them sick.

Related: The Unexpected Sign of Pneumonia Most People Miss, According to Preventative Care and Pulmonary Physicians

The bacteria can affect several different bodily systems, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They can cause a range of illnesses, including sinus infections, ear infections, pneumonia, sepsis or meningitis. Dr. Gulick says it’s the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia.

Some people get severely ill from pneumococcal disease. It can cause hospitalization and even be life-threatening, he adds. But, others may have a mild illness.

“It affects both children and adults but is most serious in very young children under 2 and older adults,” Dr. Gulick warns, as well as people with weaker immune systems, including people with cancer or AIDS.

Symptoms of pneumococcal disease can range from fever, coughing, earaches and headaches to chest pain in the case of pneumonia. Doctors can test for the bacteria and typically prescribe antibiotics.

Why Should You Get the Pneumococcal Vaccine?

As you get older, you lose immune function, putting you at greater risk for the bacteria that causes pneumococcal disease, Dr. Gulick says, adding, “This is why vaccinations can be so helpful in stimulating the weak, tired, older immune system to produce more antibodies to protect against the pneumococcus invasion and infection.”

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The CDC recommends the pneumococcal vaccine for:

  • Adults 65 and older

  • Children under 5

  • People between 5 and 64 who have medical conditions that weaken their immune systems

There are a few different pneumococcal vaccines, so it can be a little confusing to know which one you need, Dr. Lizarzaburu says. Talk to your primary care physician, who can explain the best vaccine course for you.

Here’s the gist. According to the CDC, adults who have never received a pneumococcal vaccine should receive the PCV15 or PCV20. If you get the PCV15, you should follow it up with the PPSV23. “That completes a series of pneumococcal vaccines for a lifetime,” Dr. Lizarzaburu explains.

However, if you received an earlier version of the vaccine, such as the PCV7 or PCV13, he recommends talking to your doctor about your next steps. For children, it’s a good idea to talk to their doctor about the best vaccine for them.

“The latest development is the pneumococcal 20 vaccine which covers some of the most virulent strains that cause illness in patients,” says Dr. Lizarzaburu.

According to the CDC, the PCV20 protects against 20 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The PPSV23 guards against serious infections caused by 23 types of bacteria. Studies show that getting one PPSV23 shot can protect as many as seven in 10 adults from pneumococcal disease.

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Getting vaccinated is crucial for preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from pneumococcal disease, Dr. Gulick says.

What to Expect from the Pneumoccocal Vaccine

The pneumococcal vaccine is safe, and most people don’t experience any side effects. However, some potential side effects include fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, redness or swelling at the injection site and a decreased appetite, Dr. Lizarzaburu says. Usually, these side effects will go away after a few days.

“Most of the time people do not have a lot of side effects and get the benefit of an improved immune system,” he adds.

Next, read about yet another vaccine you should get once you turn 50.