Smokers should get pneumonia vaccine: U.S. advisers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Smokers should be vaccinated against a pneumonia-causing germ, along with children and the elderly, U.S. federal advisers recommended on Wednesday.

If accepted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it would be the first vaccine recommendation aimed specifically at smokers.

The vaccines, called pneumococcal vaccines, prevent infection with several strains of Streptococcus pneumonia, a bacteria that causes pneumonia, meningitis and other severe infections. They are routinely given to the elderly and to small children, but not to healthy young adults.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, meeting in Atlanta, had been asked to discuss whether the shot might benefit smokers, who have a higher risk of lung and respiratory infection in general.

“The ACIP voted to recommend smokers aged 19 through 64 years of age should be vaccinated with pneumococcal vaccine. The committee also recommended smokers who receive pneumococcal vaccine also undergo stop smoking counseling,” CDC spokesman Curtis Allen said by e-mail.

“This is the first time the ACIP has recommended a vaccine specifically for smokers.”

More than a fifth of U.S. adults smoke cigarettes, and the risk of pneumococcal disease rises with the number of cigarettes smoked over a lifetime. Smokers account for half of otherwise healthy adults with serious pneumococcal infections.

Several companies make pneumococcal vaccines.

Wyeth’s Prevnar vaccine protects against seven strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae and is a routine childhood vaccination, pulling in $2.5 billion a year for the company.

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, made by Merck and Co under the brand name Pneumovax, is given to the elderly, patients with asthma and others at high risk of lung infections.

Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Will Dunham and Jackie Frank