3 Important Vaccines for People With COPD

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senior woman receiving vaccine injection in arm from nurse
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You might think you got all your vaccinations out of the way during childhood. However, vaccines are an important part of a healthy lifestyle for grown-ups, too. As you age, your immunity to some diseases wears off and your risk for others increases. 

People with a chronic condition like COPD have even more reasons to keep their immunizations up to date. Immunization helps ward off diseases that could otherwise be dangerous or deadly, especially if your lungs are already damaged by COPD. 

If you have COPD, here are the vaccines you need to discuss with your doctor. They can prevent diseases you’re more likely than the average person to catch and conditions that can make symptoms of your disease worse. 

1. Get a Yearly Flu Shot

Every fall, flu season begins. Each year brings different strains of the influenza—or flu—virus. Scientists stay a step ahead, crafting the vaccine by predicting which strains will circulate. It’s a smart plan, but it requires you to get a new flu shot each year.

Within two weeks of getting the shot, your body will build up antibodies to fight the flu virus. That’s important, because the flu can cause serious complications in people with COPD. These include pneumonia, ear or sinus infections, dehydration, and more trouble breathing than usual.

In some cases, respiratory infections can trigger heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems. And that’s another way the vaccine helps. People with COPD who get the shot are less likely to go to the hospital for heart problems, according to a study in the journal Vaccine

You might feel nervous about getting a shot when you have a chronic health problem. But vaccines like the flu shot are tested before being approved, and they continue to be monitored afterward. Mild side effects, such as redness or swelling at the injection site, typically go away quickly. And the flu shot won’t cause the flu or make your COPD worse.  

2. Ask About the Pneumonia Vaccine

Pneumonia starts when bacteria, viruses or fungi invade your lungs, causing a high fever, cough, and severe, stabbing chest pains. It often gets worse from there. People with COPD face a higher risk of both developing pneumonia and of getting very sick from it. What’s more, having the flu increases the risk of getting pneumonia. So the flu shot can help prevent this disease, too.

Fortunately, there is also a vaccine for one particularly dangerous form of bacterial pneumonia—pneumococcal pneumonia. Most people with COPD should get the pneumococcal vaccine. Your doctor may recommend you get this shot once before age 65 and again at age 65. Ask your doctor if it’s time for your pneumonia vaccine.

3. Keep Track of Your Pertussis (Tdap) Vaccine

Pertussis, more commonly called whooping cough, is on the rise. And people with COPD can pay a high price if they catch this disease. It can lead to severe complications, including pneumonia, brain damage, seizures, or a dangerous type of high blood pressure in the arteries in your lungs. Even milder cases can cause uncontrollable coughing, broken ribs, and ruptured blood vessels. 

The Tdap vaccine, given once during adulthood, protects you from whooping cough—along with two other diseases, tetanus and diphtheria. Not only does it keep you from getting sick, it also helps prevent you from spreading the disease to other people, including infants and children. After receiving Tdap, you can get booster shots for tetanus and diphtheria in a Td vaccine every 10 years.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  3. COPD Big Fat Reference Guide (BFRG). COPD Foundation. http://www.copdbfrg.org

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  8. Flu (Influenza). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/

  9. What You Need to Know About COPD, Asthma and Adult Vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/adults/downloads/fs-asthma-vaccines.pdf