SHOTS!: Pneumonia Edition

Last updated: March 2020

Today I sat on the exam table at the primary care doctor for my annual wellness visit. I had already had my flu shot a month or so ago. A flu shot seemed like a more effective use of my time than sitting in a traffic jam.

I assumed this would be a needle free visit. I was wrong. I walked out with a boring beige band-aid, rubbing a tender shoulder. It was a quick jab from the capable medical assistant in the clinic. I could have put it off to another day or waited to chat with the asthma doctor about it. I decided to cease the opportunity.

She was running through my vaccines with me to see if I was due for anything. The question came up if I’d ever had a pneumonia shot. My answer: No, not that I recall. None of my medical team up to this point had connected the dots that I was one of those lucky high risk people. As I rather bluntly put it when she was explaining the risks, I am the kind of person who dies from the flu or pneumonia.1 Well controlled or not I am part of the risk group because I am asthmatic.

How often I have to get the shot is up to my allergist who I will visit for my annual exam in a few weeks. My primary care doctor was unsure of what the latest literature on frequency was. I might have to get one every so many years or this might be it until I turn 65 when everyone asthma or not is to vaccinated. 1 Either way I’m glad to have this checked off the list for the moment. 

The pneumonia vaccine protects 50 to 85% of people from invasive infection.1 Just like I don’t want honeysuckle growing in my yard, I don’t want pneumonia bacteria taking up residence in my lungs. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) note that “Invasive disease is usually very serious and can sometimes result in death.”1 Invasive disease is where the bacterial infection has spread to the bloodstream or the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord.2 About 5-7% pneumonia infections in the lungs result in death.2 Pneumonia is not only caused by the bacteria which the vaccine immunizes against. Viruses or fungi can also get in on the action and give you pneumonia. Yet, bacteria is the most common cause of the disease.2

Count me as happy to have protection from pneumonia infections in all my body’s systems. This protection did come with the trade off of a moderately sore shoulder. I did not run any kind of a fever or get otherwise sick from the shot. I usually tolerate vaccines well so this shot was about the same as any other one in recent memory. Having gone home to read up further about pneumonia solidifies my thankfulness for modern medicine. I really like my lungs, blood, and brain free of bacterial infestation. Have you been immunized for pneumonia?

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