Why Do I Need a Pneumonia Shot?

What Is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia means that the air sacs of the lungs cannot fill with air.
Pneu­mo­nia means that the air sacs of the lungs can­not fill with air.

Your lung con­tains many tiny sacs that are sup­posed to fill with air when you inhale. But if you have a lung infec­tion, those tiny sacs can fill up with pus or oth­er flu­id instead. Swelling of the tis­sue that sur­rounds the air sacs can also make it hard for the air sacs to inflate. This prob­lem is called pneu­mo­nia. If a case of pneu­mo­nia gets bad enough, you could suf­fo­cate. That is why pneu­mo­nia has always been a major cause of death.

For­tu­nate­ly, there are a few sim­ple things you can do to pro­tect your­self against pneu­mo­nia. One is to make sure that you get all of your rec­om­mend­ed vac­ci­na­tions, pos­si­bly includ­ing the pneu­mo­nia shot. The pneu­mo­nia shot pro­tects against sev­er­al strains of Strep­to­coc­cus pneu­mo­ni­ae, which is also called the pneu­mo­coc­cus. Pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cines are giv­en to babies and to elder­ly peo­ple, as well as to any­one else who is at risk for pneu­mo­coc­cal infec­tion. The vac­cine is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant for pro­tect­ing peo­ple against the antibi­ot­ic-resis­tant strains of pneu­mo­coc­cus.

The pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae)
Strep­to­coc­cus pneu­mo­ni­ae is also called the pneu­mo­coc­cus.

Strep­to­coc­cus pneu­mo­ni­ae is a fac­ul­ta­tive­ly anaer­o­bic organ­ism. That means that it thrives in an oxy­gen-rich envi­ron­ment, such as the upper res­pi­ra­to­ry tract, but can also live in oxy­gen-poor envi­ron­ments. As a result, it thrives in the human upper res­pi­ra­to­ry tract, which is its nat­ur­al habi­tat. How­ev­er, it can also invade deep­er tis­sues, such as the blood­stream, heart, joints, bones, and brain.

Since the pneu­mo­coc­cus nat­u­ral­ly lives in the human upper res­pi­ra­to­ry tract, it is just wait­ing for an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cause prob­lems. As a result, it often caus­es pneu­mo­nia and inva­sive infec­tions in the wake of some oth­er ill­ness, such as a cold or a case of the flu. Thus, the influen­za vac­cine can also help to pro­tect against pneu­mo­nia. Lung dis­eases such as emphy­se­ma, which is due to dam­age to the walls of the air sacs, can also increase the risk of lung infec­tions and death from pneu­mo­nia.

To pro­tect itself against the human immune sys­tem, the pneu­mo­coc­cus secretes a com­plex sug­ar called a poly­sac­cha­ride. This poly­sac­cha­ride forms a cap­sule around the bac­te­r­i­al cell. The cap­sule makes it hard for a white blood cell to grasp and swal­low the pneu­mo­coc­cal cell. The cap­sule also hides the bac­te­r­i­al pro­teins. Thus, it makes it hard­er for the body to rec­og­nize the bac­te­ria as a for­eign invad­er. The human immune sys­tem can make anti­bod­ies against the poly­sac­cha­ride. How­ev­er, each strain of pneu­mo­coc­cus has a dif­fer­ent poly­sac­cha­ride. As a result, the anti­bod­ies against one strain of pneu­mo­coc­cus will not pro­tect you against a strain with a dif­fer­ent poly­sac­cha­ride cap­sule.

Why Are There Two Types of Pneumococcal Vaccine?

Two types of pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine are avail­able. One type is the poly­sac­cha­ride vac­cine, which is made out of the poly­sac­cha­rides from 23 dif­fer­ent strains of pneu­mo­coc­cus. The oth­er type is a con­ju­gate vac­cine. It is made by bind­ing the poly­sac­cha­rides from 13 dif­fer­ent strains of pneu­mo­coc­cus to a bit of pro­tein called a con­ju­gate. The pur­pose of the con­ju­gate is to help the body devel­op a stronger, longer-last­ing immune response, even in chil­dren under 2 years of age.

Who Needs the Pneumonia Vaccine?

The pneu­mo­coc­cal con­ju­gate vac­cine is rou­tine­ly giv­en to babies at age 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months of age, as well as to patients age 65 years or old­er. It may also be rec­om­mend­ed for patients age 2 years to 65 years of age if they have cer­tain health con­di­tions. The pneu­mo­coc­cal poly­sac­cha­ride vac­cine is rec­om­mend­ed for patients over 65. It may also be rec­om­mend­ed for younger patients who are at high risk for pneu­mo­coc­cal infec­tion.