Experts urge pneumonia vaccine for elderly in wake of U.S. flu-shot shortage

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Experts are putting extra emphasis on their urgings that nursing home residents get pneumonia vaccine shots during this season's flu shortage.

The often-overlooked Pneumovax shot protects against a type of pneumonia germ that, as a common complication of influenza, causes severe bacterial infection, says Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic, who advises the government on pneumococcal vaccine.

Medicare pays for the vaccine, a one-time shot for those 65 and older that prevents not only pneumonia but also deadly blood infections and meningitis, caused by a bacterium called pneumoccus. The government hopes to have 90% of elderly Americans vaccinated by 2010; so far, only 63% have received the shot.

Meanwhile, the U.S. should expect another 2.6 million doses of flu vaccine from supplier Aventis Pasteur by January, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Tuesday. Another 1.5 million vaccines also might be on the way from Canada, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Food and Drug Administration officials first will inspect the Canadian facilities to ensure they meet U.S. standards, according to acting FDA Administrator Lester Crawford.