What vaccines prevent pneumonia?

What vaccines prevent pneumonia?

The first vaccine to be given to prevent pneumonia is the one against influenza, because influenza can be complicated both as primary pneumonia, due to the influenza virus in the respiratory tract, and by leading the way to bacteria such as pneumococcus. In fact, like all infectious diseases, influenza weakens the immune system and compromises the epithelium of the respiratory system. In practice, instead of having a nice protective fabric, it is like having “holes”: alterations in which bacteria can take root.

Then there are specific vaccinations for bacterial pneumonia. The one against pneumococcus is very important in the older population, but also in those over forty with heart disease, liver disease, or chronic kidney disease, and so on.

The vaccine is made from polysaccharides conjugated with proteins and is directed against the most pathogenic, “bad” types of this bacterium. There are more than 90 types, but some are more aggressive and cause disease. Today we have vaccines against 15 and 20 different serotypes, and in the future also against 21.

It is important to underline that this vaccination should not be done every year: it is done once from the age of 65 (or earlier if a chronic condition is present) and should not be repeated until after many years. There is no need to do it together with the flu vaccination: it can be done at any time of the year, even in August, and it could be useful to ensure that there are active calls from the population.

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Another vaccination that is difficult to consider as a defense against pneumonia is that for tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis, recommended every 10 years and important against lower respiratory tract infections. In fact, immunity against whooping cough, even the natural one, does not last for life. However, if whooping cough is readily recognized in children, it is often underdiagnosed in adults.

In the near future there will also be vaccination against the respiratory syncytial virus, which is very important in the elderly. This virus, in fact, circulates more or less in the same period as the flu and can cause quite serious and dangerous illnesses: they often do not manifest themselves with fever, but with wheezing and whistling, and also cause damage to the lower respiratory tract. There are currently two vaccines already authorized but not yet included in the vaccination calendar.

Finally, vaccination against some forms of meningococcus that manifest as pneumonia can be considered. They are rarer than the previous ones and for this reason it is important to make a careful assessment of the possibility of protecting the elderly population.

When calculating benefits/costs, it should be underlined that vaccines contribute to limiting the major problem of antibiotic resistance, because they allow us to take fewer antibiotics.

*Paolo Bonanni is professor of Hygiene at the University of Florence

The information provided is intended for informational purposes only: it does not represent medical advice in any way and cannot replace diagnoses or treatment indications recommended by your doctor or a specialist.

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