Pros and cons of the Pneumococcal Vaccine for Seniors

Image of a syringe and vial
photo taken by Brian Hoskins

Worried about the pneumococcal vaccine side effects? You are not alone. It has become a common practice for general practitioners to recommend the pneumococcal vaccine to seniors over age 65 as an added safeguard against pneumonia. This disease is caused by strep infections 25% of the time.  But is the pneumonia vaccine, as most people call it, always a good idea? Are there instances when the elderly patient would be better off without it? I investigated this adult vaccine to find out.

Know Your Risk Factors for the Disease as Well as the Vaccine

There are many pros and cons of the pneumococcal vaccine for seniors. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, seniors are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop pneumonia, which is most common among nursing home patients with co-morbid conditions (patients otherwise sick with other illnesses as well). In these environments the use of antibiotics is more regular and sometimes ineffective. This is because virulent strains, other infectious and dangerous diseases like Pneumonia, MRSA, and Influenza can be life threatening to folks already weak and fragile. The adult vaccine for pneumonia, commonly called pneumococcal vaccine by doctors, can possibly protect these at-risk patients from deadly infections.

Pros and Cons of the Pneumococcal Vaccine for Seniors

Vaccines have become continually more controversial in the last 20 years as we have seen an increase in the varieties available and the number of required doses. They’ve become compounded into multi-disease vials for our convenience, and are routinely recommended for diseases that are often not life threatening for the general population. Consumers can’t ignore the increase of  incidences of negative reactions and recalls by manufacturers of damaged or dangerous vaccines, such as the recent vaccine recall for Rotovirus. This is a fact often ignored by doctors and vaccine manufacturers when they give their recommendations for inoculations to patients.

But the burning question still remains. Is this pneumococcal vaccine a good idea for YOU, never mind the statistics of safety for the general population. How do YOU know whether or not you have an increased risk for a negative reaction? And is there a way for you to judge whether or not getting the pneumococcal vaccine for yourself is really necessary, given your lifestyle and overall health?

I am a parent of three kids, one who was vaccinated without incident and two who reacted within days to the DTaP with neurological symptoms. I am extremely cagey when it comes to ad campaigns for new vaccines and incredulous (often one sided) claims of success rates for patients. Once more, my pediatrician in the first instance did not file a claim with the CDC and requested that I sign legal papers if I chose to continue using their practice without continuing the standard vaccination schedule suggested by the CDC.

So the question remains. How beneficial and safe is the pneumonia vaccine for older folks?

If we look at a recent September 2010 report on the effectiveness of the pneumococcal vaccine in infant inoculations we see a very negative outcome.

According to Science Daily,

“Infants who received heptavalent pneumococcal conjugate vaccination (PCV-7) at 2, 4, and 11 months were more likely than unvaccinated controls to have nasopharyngeal (in the nasal passages and upper part of the throat behind the nose) acquisition of pneumococcal serotype 19A, a leading cause of respiratory pneumococcal disease, according to a study in the September 8 issue of JAMA.”

But infants differ from aging adults. One of the single most important factors that a geriatric patient must consider is whether a pre-existing condition might create a negative outcome for the pneumococcal vaccine.

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2 Comments on Pros and cons of the Pneumococcal Vaccine for Seniors

  1. My doctor tells me each visit that I should take the vaccine, and, being a respiratory therapist, I understand pneumonia very well, and just like when he stuck my finger, non-fasting, got a glucose reading of 131, and spoke “Diabetes,” and wrote it in my chart….That meant I was labeled under a higher level of care, and I had to see him two times a year instead of one. I could not get this removed from my chart, and it all has to do with money. I feel practitioners pushing the pneumonia vaccine on seniors is about money, and bleeding medicare…..That’s the “”Mercy” system out of St. Louis Mo. When the sisters gave over to the corporate managers, it all became about money. I worked as a surgical technologist at Mercy in Springfield, Mo. for 32 years….46 years in medicine….I feel ripped off in many ways.

  2. I have been experiencing the exact same thing with my doctor. She was almost frantic to test and retest me until she got a glucose reading of 131 and automatically brought up Diabetes and put it in my record. She prescribed meds that made me feel terrible, so I cut them in half and have been ok since. I told her I had cut the dose in half and she said that was a good idea. I keep getting recommended for the vaccine for pneumonia from her over and over which bothers me because I do not want to take a large number of meds or vaccines. I am on Medicare and feel a bit ripped off myself. She has done more blood tests in less than a year than I have had in the past 20 years. It is scary to me.

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