Dear Savvy Senior: Do currently offered vaccines against pneumonia provide seniors any protection against the coronavirus disease? I’ve always been bad about getting vaccinated, but this coronavirus pandemic is causing me to change my thinking. — Pro-Vax Patty
Dear Patty: This is a great question. Because the new coronavirus (which causes the COVID-19 disease) attacks the lungs and respiratory system, many readers have asked whether pneumonia vaccines, which are administered to millions of patients each year, might protect someone if they contract the coronavirus.
But unfortunately, the answer is no. Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B vaccine, do not provide protection against the coronavirus.
This virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are rapidly developing a vaccine against COVID-19, but it is expected to take at least a year before it’s ready.
Having said that, you should also know that there are several other important vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all seniors should get up to date on after the coronavirus pandemic dies down. Here’s a rundown of what they are, when you should get them and how they’re covered by Medicare.
>> Flu vaccine: While annual flu shots are recommended each fall to everyone, they are important for older adults to get 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 65 and older. The Fluzone High Dose or FLUAD are the two options that provide extra protection beyond what a standard flu shot offers. And all flu shots are covered under Medicare Part B.
>> Pneumococcal vaccine: As previously stated, this vaccine protects against pneumonia, which hospitalizes around 250,000 Americans and kills about 50,000 each year. It’s recommended that all seniors, 65 or older, get two separate vaccines: PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23 (Pneumovax 23). Both vaccines, which are administered one year apart, protect against different strains of the bacteria to provide maximum protection. Medicare Part B covers both shots if they are taken at least a year apart.
>> Shingles vaccine: Caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash that affects more than 1 million Americans every year. All people over age 50 should get the new Shingrix vaccine, which is given in two doses, two to six months apart. Even if you’ve already had shingles, you should still get this vaccination because reoccurring cases are possible. The CDC also recommends that anyone previ- ously vaccinated with Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix because it’s 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’ve 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.
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 what additional vaccines may be appropriate for you. You should also talk to your doctor during your next visit about which vaccinations you should get.
To locate a site that offers any of these vaccines, visit VaccineFinder.org and type in your location.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.