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Bacterial Pneumonia Vaccination
What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a lung disease caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria. The most common type is caused by bacteria and is called pneumococcal pneumonia or bacterial pneumonia. Each year in the United State thousands of adults develop bacterial pneumonia; the majority are older adults. Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics and most people will get better once treated. However, some of bacteria that cause the disease have been growing stronger and cannot be easily cured with antibiotics. In about 30 percent of the people with pneumonia, the disease will spread to the blood, lungs, middle ear, or nervous system and cause serious health problems and/or death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 50,000 adults died from pneumonia in 2006.
The most important thing to know about pneumococcal pneumonia is that it is a vaccine-preventable disease.
You can get pneumonia through contact with people who are sick from or are carrying the bacteria that cause it. Very small respiratory droplets sprayed into the air as the infected person speaks sneezes or coughs spread the infection. Some people can carry the bacteria in their throats without being sick.
You can get sick very quickly with bacterial pneumonia. Symptoms may include:
- High fever
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
- Chest pains
- Muscle aches
If you have any of these symptoms you should go to your doctor. The earlier you have treatment the quicker you will recover.
Why is it important to get vaccinated?
It is very important for some individuals to get vaccinated. Bacterial pneumonia is a serious illness that kills thousands of seniors each year. The vaccine has done a good job in those who are vaccinated of preventing the severe illness, hospitalization, and death that is associated with bacterial pneumonia infection. It makes good sense to get vaccinated for those who are at high risk of getting the disease.
People who stand to benefit most from vaccination include:
- People over the age 65
- Those who have chronic health problems (such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, etc.)
- Those who have had their spleen removed
- Anyone living in a nursing home or assisted-living facility
- Caregivers of the chronically ill (healthcare workers or family caregivers)
- Adults with chronic respiratory diseases (such as asthma and CPOD)
- Anyone who has had pneumonia in the past
Most people will only need one shot in their lifetime. A few will need a booster shot. However, you should never have more than two shots of the pneumonia vaccine in your lifetime and those shots should be given at least five years apart.
Does the shot cause side effects?
After getting this shot you may have redness and pain in the area where you had the shot (a mild local reaction). Rarely (less than 1% of cases), fever, muscle aches, or severe local reactions occur. You cannot get the pneumococcal infection from the shot.
Do not get the shot if you:
- Have an infection now (wait until the infection symptoms go away)
- Are allergic to thimerosal (a preservative made from mercury)
- Had an allergic reaction to the vaccine in the past
- Are allergic to eggs
Talk to your health care provider before getting the shot if you have any of the above.
Does Medicare pay for the vaccine and what will it cost me?
Yes, Medicare will cover the cost of a pneumonia vaccination for people covered by Medicare. Your cost will be $0 if your health care provider accepts assignment. The benefit is covered by Part B Medicare.
Important things to remember:
If you have Medicare and a MediGap/Medicare Supplemental policy, and Medicare covers 100%, there is no need to contact your MediGap plan for details, as there will be no copay forwarded to the MediGap plan to pay. This is only the case if Medicare Part B covers 100% of the cost. Therefore, there will be no copay. However, if Medicare Part B only covers 80%, a MediGap plan should pay all or most of the 20% after Medicare pays their part. With a Medicare Advantage Plan, you need to call your representative for details.
Where do I get a pneumonia shot?
Most people get their pneumonia shot through their doctor or health care provider. Your doctor must write an order for the vaccine for it to be covered under your Medicare benefits. If you are receiving assisted living benefits you may be able to get the shot in your home or assisted living facility.
Can I have a pneumonia shot at the same time as the flu shot?
Yes, you can. However, you need a flu shot every year and will, most likely, only need one pneumonia shot. One pneumonia shot is good for a lifetime for most people.
When should I get my pneumonia shot?
Unlike a flu shot which is only available October through March, pneumonia shots are available all year round and you can have them any time of year.