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Change of Advice on Pneumonia Vaccine

Man getting vaccine shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that people age 65 and older get two pneumonia vaccines — the traditional shot as well as a newer version that can offer additional protection.

An immunization advisory panel to the CDC voted 13-2 in August to recommend that those 65-plus get the newer vaccine, called Prevnar 13, even if they already have had the current version, Pneumovax 23.

Those who have not gotten a pneumonia vaccine yet should get the Prevnar 13 first, then the traditional one six to 12 months later, the CDC advised.

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There is one hitch: Medicare currently will pay for only one pneumonia vaccine per older adult, meaning it won’t reimburse for Prevnar 13 for those who have already gotten Pneumovax 23. Medicare would have to evaluate changing its rules, an official told the advisory panel, and that process would likely extend until January 2016, Reuters reported. Prevnar 13 costs about $135 a dose compared with $68 for Pneumovax 23. 

The vaccines, which are needed only once for those 65-plus, protect against the bacteria that cause pneumonia as well as other serious infections, including meningitis. Prevnar 13 has been used in children since 2010.

The CDC estimates that 900,000 Americans a year get pneumococcal pneumonia, a lung infection marked by fever, cough and chest pain. Between 45,000 and 63,000 die from it, nearly all adults. It is typically treated with antibiotics, but many types of the bacteria have become resistant to those drugs, according to the CDC. Older adults, especially smokers and those with chronic illnesses like diabetes or kidney disease or who live in nursing homes, are particularly at risk.

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In addition, the same bacteria that cause pneumonia can cause meningitis — an infection of the brain covering and spinal cord — and bacteremia, a bloodstream infection, which together cause about 5,100 deaths annually.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, the addition of Prevnar 13 to the guidelines continues a campaign by vaccine manufacturers and public-health officials to expand routine vaccinations to adults. The CDC recently has been urging more adults to receive seasonal flu vaccines, and adults 60 and older to get a shot to reduce their risk of shingles.

Updated: Oct. 2, 2014

Photo: lisafx/iStock


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