Employee & Community Health

Pneumococcal shots: Not one, but two

7/24/2017 by Dr. Robert M. Jacobson

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Most parents are familiar with Prevnar13 or PCV13, the "baby shot" that protects children against pneumonia. That same vaccine now has been added to the schedule for adults because it's been found to really decrease the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia and death in those 65 years and older. 

This age group now needs two pneumococcal shots. One is given at age 65, the other at age 66. This is a big change. And to make it more confusing, those over 65 who have had one of the shots, still need to get the other one. 

So it's not surprising when our patients ask, "Why do I need TWO pneumococcal shots?"

At age 65, adults are at more risk for severe infections from pneumococcus, a bacterial germ. This bacteria can cause illnesses severe enough to require hospital care, intravenous (IV) antibiotics and fluids, and oxygen. They can even lead to death. The diseases are common enough to justify giving shots to prevent them. 

For decades, we have given adults 65 and older the vaccine Pneumovax. Its generic name is 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine or PPSV23, for short. It is a good vaccine. But now we have this second, newer vaccine - Prevnar13 - that we have been giving to babies for more than 20 years. Its generic name is the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, or PCV13, for short. It turns out that this vaccine really decreases the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia and death in those 65 years and older.

We can't mix these two vaccines in the same syringe or even give them the same day. Vaccination needs to be separated by one year to make sure both work. We even give the PCV13 first on purpose to get more out of the two shots.

Are you up to date on your shots, particularly for pneumonia? To know for sure, contact your health care team today, or view your health records via Patient Online Services. 

Dr. Robert M. Jacobson is a primary care pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and is the medical director of the ECH and Southeast Minnesota Region Immunization Programs.