Dad was watching CNN in another room and I overheard a report on the H1n1 vaccine, the H1N1 virus and how it kills. In the vulnerable populations — people under 24 years of age and people with chronic diseases or immune diseases — what can be deadly is getting the H1N1 flu AND a secondary bacterial pneumonia infection. Pneumonia kills by filling the lungs with fluid so people can’t get enough air to live.
What surprised me about the CNN report, which included commentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is that no one thought to suggest that people in the vulnerable populations who are still waiting for enough H1N1 vaccine for them to get one should ask their doctor about getting the vaccine against bacterial pneumonia. (I am not a doctor and so all I’m trying to do is prompt people to ask their doctor.)
Consumer Reports’ Health blog reports (boldfacing mine) that having both the pneumonia vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine “can be a lifesaver”:
Pneumoccocal pneumonia is the most common bacterial pneumonia, and it can be prevented with a vaccine. Yet few Americans get vaccinated.
There are currently two vaccines available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV; Pneumovax) for everyone over 65 and those from 2 to 64 years old with certain health conditions, such as chronic heart, lung, or liver disease, alcoholism, or impaired immunity. The PPSV is a single shot, with a 5-year booster for those who got it their first shot before they turned 65, or who are at very high risk. It offers protection against a wide spectrum of bacteria
The agency also recommends the pediatric pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV; Prevnar) for all children under 5 years old. The recommended schedule for the PCV is four doses at months 2, 4 and 6, and the final dose between months 12 and 15. The PCV provides more powerful immunity than PPSV but against fewer variants of bacteria. It has yet to be tested in clinical trials for adults, but it is the only vaccine for this disease available for children under two. It is also newer and more expensive.
Side effects for the vaccines are rare, and they do not cause pneumonia. Along with the vaccines for the flu, a pneumoccocal vaccine can help to reduce your risk of coinfection and severe illness this flu season. In short, it very well could be a lifesaver.
The National Institutes of Health has a page of information about both bacterial and viral pneumonia here.
Talk to your doctor to find out what is best for you and your family.