SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Army News Service, Oct. 18, 2007) -- The Army Medical Department is launching a concerted effort to reduce the needless suffering, death, and waste of medical resources that stem from widespread failure by older beneficiaries to get their pneumonia vaccinations.

Military medical facilities are being pressed to stay on their toes about offering the shots to all their older patients.

Also known as the pneumococcal shot or Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine or PPV, the pneumonia vaccine is safe and highly effective, according to medical authorities -- provided it gets out of the bottle and inside somebody's body.

To encourage that to happen more often, military medical leaders are stressing these facts:

- Pneumococcal disease can kill you. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. (40,000 deaths annually).

- It can make you miserably and expensively ill. There are 100,000 - 130,000 hospitalizations annually in the U.S. It can affect your lungs, blood, and brain. It usually causes fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

- Pneumococcal disease can affect people of all ages, but older adults ages 65 and over are at higher risk for complications from both the flu and pneumococcal disease. The shot can help protect you from getting a serious infection in your lungs, blood and brain.

- Getting the shot when you're age 65 or older should protect you for the rest of your life. You can get it any time of the year. The shot is safe and most people have no side effects. For maximum safety, medical officials also encourage beneficiaries to take the flu vaccine annually.

Why we need pneumonia shots

Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but some people are at greater risk from the disease. These include people 65 and older, the very young, and people with special health problems. The pneumonia vaccine protects you from getting serious infection in your blood or brain that can cause dangerous health problems, hospitalization, and death.

Pneumococcal disease can lead to serious infections of the lungs (pneumonia), the blood (bacteremia), and the covering of the brain (meningitis). About 1 out of every 20 people who get pneumococcal pneumonia dies from it, as do about two people out of 10 who get bacteremia and three people out of 10 who get meningitis. People with the special health problems are even more likely to die from the disease.

Drugs such as penicillin were once effective in treating these infections; but the disease has become more resistant to these drugs, making treatment of pneumococcal infections more difficult. This makes prevention of the disease through vaccination even more important.

Who should get the pneumococcal shot'

Aca,!Ac All adults 65 years of age or older.

Aca,!Ac Anyone over 2 years of age who has a long term health problem such as: heart disease, lung, disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, alcoholism, cirrhosis, or leaks of cerebrospinal fluid.

Aca,!Ac Anyone over 2 years of age who has a disease or condition that lowers the body's resistance to infection, such as: Hodgkin's disease, lymphoma, leukemia, kidney failure, multiple myeloma, nephrotic syndrome, HIV infection or AIDS, damaged spleen, or no spleen, organ transplant.

Aca,!Ac Anyone over 2 years of age who is taking any drug or treatment that lowers the body's
resistance to infection, such as: long-term steroids, certain cancer drugs, radiation therapy.

Aca,!Ac Alaskan Natives and certain Native American populations.

How can I learn more'

Aca,!Ac Ask your doctor or nurse. Visit the National Immunization Program website at Department of Health And Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Immunization Program

Aca,!Ac Go to for more information about pneumonia vaccinations.

(Harry Noyes writes for the U.S. Army Medical Command.)