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Thursday May 28, 2020

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Do Pneumonia Vaccines Protect from Coronavirus?

Do vaccines that are currently offered to protect against pneumonia provide seniors any protection against the novel coronavirus disease? I have always been bad about getting vaccinated, but this coronavirus pandemic is causing me to change my thinking.

This is a great question. Because the coronavirus (COVID-19) attacks the lungs and respiratory system, many readers have asked whether the pneumonia vaccines, administered to millions of patients each year, might protect an individual if they contract the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Vaccines for pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B vaccine, do not provide protection against the novel coronavirus.

Because this virus is so new and different, it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are in the process of rapidly developing a vaccine against COVID-19, but it is expected to take at least a year before it is ready.

However, you should know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all seniors get up to date on their vaccinations when the coronavirus pandemic dies down. Here is a summary of these vaccines, when you should get them and how they are covered by Medicare.

Flu vaccine: While annual flu shots are recommended for everyone, they are very important for older adults because seniors have a much greater risk of developing dangerous flu complications. According to the CDC, last year up to 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died because of the flu – most of whom were age 65 and older.

To improve your chances of escaping the seasonal flu, this September or October consider a vaccine specifically designed for people age 65 and older. The Fluzone High Dose or FLUAD are the two options that provide extra protection beyond what the standard flu shot offers. All flu shots are covered under Medicare Part B.

Pneumococcal vaccine: As previously stated, this vaccine protects against pneumonia, which causes the hospitalizations of approximately 250,000 Americans and the deaths of 50,000 each year. It is recommended that all seniors, age 65 and older, get two separate vaccines – PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23 (Pneumovax 23). Both vaccines are administered one year apart and protect against different strains of the bacteria to provide maximum protection. Medicare Part B covers both shots if they are administered at least a year apart.

Shingles vaccine: Caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash that affects more than one million Americans every year. All individuals age 50 and older should get the new Shingrix vaccine, which is given in two doses, administered two to six months apart. If you have already contracted shingles, you should still get this vaccination because reoccurring cases are possible. The CDC also recommends that anyone previously vaccinated with Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix because it is significantly more effective.

All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover shingles vaccinations, but coverage amounts and reimbursement rules vary depending on where the shot is given. Check your plan.

Tdap vaccine: A one-time dose of the Tdap vaccine, which covers tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) is recommended to all adults. If you have already had a Tdap shot, you should get a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster shot every 10 years. All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover these vaccinations.

Other Vaccinations


Depending on your health conditions, preferences, age and future travel schedule, the CDC offers a “What Vaccines Do You Need?” quiz at www2.CDC.gov/nip/adultimmsched to help you determine the additional vaccines that may be appropriate for you. You should also talk to your doctor during your next visit about which vaccinations are recommended for you.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published May 22, 2020

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