This is the time of year when most of our patients begin to consider flu and pneumonia vaccines. For the most part the flu vaccine has remained a standard and only the specific viral strains change yearly. Those of our patients who are candidates for the so-called “pneumonia vaccine” (and this is the large majority of our practice) are faced with information about two pneumonia vaccines on the market and the recommendations about who should receive one or the other or both.

The original pneumonia vaccine (PPSV23) protects the patient against 23 different strains of the most common bacterial pneumonia, pneumococcal pneumonia. This disease can be highly fatal in children less than 2 years of age and adults over the age of 65. It has been very effective in controlling outbreaks caused by the 23 strains it protects against.

The newest pneumococcal vaccine, Prevnar 13 (PCV13), is constructed somewhat differently than its older brother, and confers immunity to an additional population of pneumococcal bacteria. Prevnar 13 is more expensive. It is now felt that this is the first vaccine patients who are 65 or older should get, followed in one year by the previous vaccine. This is the same recommendation for patients with other diseases such as HIV and other immunologic impairments.

You should talk to you doctor about whether one vaccine, or both, is right for you. Remember this is the pneumonia vaccine and not the flu vaccine. It is usually given only once, except in special circumstances.