Harvard Men's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Two pneumonia shots are better than one

Q. I'm 68, and I had the pneumonia vaccine a few years ago. Now I hear that I need to have two different ones. Do I really need to do this?

A. For many years, men who turned 65 were told that they needed a single pneumonia shot, called Pneumovax. Now the CDC suggests that older adults get an additional vaccination with a different vaccine, called Prevnar. The combination stimulates the immune system more effectively than either alone.

The two vaccines build immunity against different types of the bacterium, known as pneumococcus, that causes pneumonia. Pneumovax (PPSV23) protects against 23 common types of pneumococcus. Prevnar (PCV13) protects against 13 types.

Prevnar is not actually a new vaccine, since it has been used to protect children against pneumococcus for many years. In fact, vaccinating children has reduced infections in adults over the past decade, because there were fewer unvaccinated children to pass the infection to adults. In 2012, Prevnar was recommended for adults with certain lung or immune system problems, and last year, the recommendation was expanded to all adults over 65.

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