Should you have the pneumonia vaccine?

All Ontario residents have been offered a free influenza vaccine this winter. British Columbia is going another step and urging seniors to be vaccinated against pneumococcus. This is one of the most serious causes of pneumonia in elderly people.

No matter where you live in Canada, pneumococcal vaccine is worth consideration by all seniors. This vaccine is different from the yearly influenza vaccine.

“Thousands of seniors become sick, many of them are hospitalized and die from pneumonia each year, and pneumococcus is the single most important cause of bacterial pneumonia,” said Dr. Mark Bigham, an epidemiologist at B.C.’s Centre for Disease Control.

“Vaccination will reduce the risk of serious infections such as pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis caused by this bacteria. This vaccine may also help reduce the need for antibiotics and the need to be hospitalized.”

A one-time shot
Pneumonia is an infection or inflammation of the lungs. Symptoms include laboured breathing, fever, cough accompanied by greenish, yellowish or blood-tinged sputum and general weakness. A sufferer may also experience sudden chills, chest congeson and headache. Pneumonia is a frequent complication of influenza and especially dangerous for the elderly.

Flu and pneumonia shots can be given at the same time. The flu vaccine can be received annually. The pneumonia vaccine is generally only given once, unless the individual has a chronic health condition that places them at higher risk of pneumonia or one of its complications.

The complications from pneumonia can be deadly, especially if you are 65 years of age and older or have a chronic illness. Other persons at increased risk for pneumococcal disease include those who suffer from
chronic illnesses such as:

  • Cardio-respiratory disease
  • Cirrhosis or alcoholism
  • Chronic renal disease
  • Diabetes
  • HIV infection
  • Lymphoma
  • Other conditions associated with suppression of the body’s immune system

Treated with antibiotics
Pneumococcal pneumonia is usually well treated with antibiotics. But with resistance to many of the antibiotic drugs on the rise, immunization is seen as a very effective defense against pneumonia.

In British Columbia, the Ministry of Health provides free pneumonia vaccine to those over 65. Programs vary in each province, so it’s best to ask your doctor whether you are a good candidate for the pneumonia vaccine. It may cost you a few dollars, but the peace of mind alone will be well worth the money.