Ask Your Pharmacist

December 14, 2022
Q:

What should I know about pneumonia? Should I get a vaccine against it?

A:

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is from Streptococcus pneumonia, also referred to as pneumococcus. Pneumococcal infections can cause pneumonia or other serious illness including sepsis and meningitis. We can lessen the severity of pneumococcal illnesses through immunization. 

Signs and symptoms of bacterial pneumonia in an adult might include a fever (temperature greater than 38.5 C) or chills, shortness of breath, cough with phlegm, rapid heart rate, chest pain, and nausea or vomiting.  

As we age, the risk of serious illness from pneumococcus increases and so we know that New Brunswickers aged 65 years and older are at a higher risk of developing pneumococcal pneumonia and other pneumonia-related illnesses.  

As of Dec. 1, the New Brunswick Department of Health expanded the availability of the publicly-funded vaccine, known as Pneumovax 23, to community pharmacies in New Brunswick. 

A dose of Pneumovax 23 may be administered by your community pharmacist free of charge for New Brunswickers aged 65 and older, regardless of risk factors or other previous pneumococcal infection. For adults who received the Pneumovax prior to the age of 65, an additional dose should be given at age 65, or at least five years after their previous dose.

You do not require a prescription to obtain Pneumovax 23 from your pharmacist. The most efficient option to get your Pneumovax 23 is to call ahead to make sure your pharmacy is offering the vaccine and to book an appointment.

Although walk-in immunizations are possible, booking an appointment ensures the pharmacy has sufficient vaccine supply in stock and that they are prepared for your visit with as little wait time as possible. It is safe to get the Pneumovax during the same visit you get your influenza shot and/or your COVID-19 booster.

Pneumovax is given as a single injection into the shoulder muscle. After injection there may some redness or skin irritation, and sometimes some muscle soreness. These symptoms can generally be relieved with acetaminophen for pain or simply by applying a cold pack to the injection site. 

Some New Brunswickers aged 50 and older with certain medical conditions may be at a higher risk of pneumococcal infection. Some of these risk factors may include chronic lung conditions (COPD), immune compromise (such as cancer, organ or stem cell transplant recipients, HIV), receiving medications that suppress your immune response (such as biologics for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis), people with diabetes, smokers, or having three or more lung conditions.

People infected with pneumococcus who have these risk factors are more likely to require hospitalization or intensive care, and there is a greater risk of death.   

While the provincial government is now covering the cost of Pneumovax 23 at participating pharmacies, there are other pneumococcal vaccines that can provide adequate protection. Talk to your pharmacist about the best choice of vaccine(s) and the optimal timing of immunization based on your health history.    

 

Dr Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Shoppers Drug Mart in Quispamsis, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.