Is new pneumonia vaccine better than old one?

Q: I heard there's a new pneumonia shot. Is it better than the old one?

A: The older pneumonia shot is the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine. It's recommended for all people over age 65 and anyone with certain medical conditions, such as lung disease, diabetes, heart disease and problems with the immune system. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends it for adults who smoke or have asthma.

The vaccine protects against 23 kinds of pneumococcus, which is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. Vaccination might not prevent you from ever getting pneumonia, but it could keep you out of the hospital and prevent the infection from spreading to your brain or bloodstream.

The "new" pneumonia vaccine, known as Prevnar 13, is based on an older vaccine used in children. Prevnar 13 protects against 13 strains of pneumococcus. Despite containing fewer strains in the vaccine, it makes the body produce a higher level of protective antibodies. Studies are under way to find out if Prevnar 13 protects against pneumonia better than the older vaccine.

The CDC recommends both vaccines only for people at the highest risk of death from pneumococcal disease, including those who've had the spleen removed, those with HIV infection or blood cancers, and transplant recipients. Ask your doctor if you qualify.

Dr. William Kormos is editor in chief of Harvard Men's Health Watch.

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