Pneumococcal disease in the elderly: What is preventing vaccine efficacy?

Jeff B Rubins, Edward N. Janoff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The effective prevention of Streptococcus pneumoniae infection has a renewed priority in an era in which the emergence of antibacterial-resistant strains has the potential to further compromise efforts to reduce early mortality from invasive pneumococcal infection. Although the 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPS) vaccine was approved in the US to prevent respiratory and invasive infection in the elderly and other high-risk populations, the protective efficacy of this vaccine for the growing population of adults aged >65 years remains controversial. The apparent effectiveness of pneumococcal immunisation in clinical studies of elderly adults has varied depending upon whether a reduction in pneumococcal colonisation, pneumonia, bacteraemia or death was used as an outcome. Clinical studies of vaccine efficacy to date suggest that the current pneumococcal vaccine is 56 to 81% effective at preventing invasive pneumococcal infection, and may have additive benefit to influenza vaccine in preventing community-acquired pneumonia, particularly in elderly adults with an increased risk of serious pneumonia requiring hospitalisation. Possible reasons for incomplete protection from pneumococcal infection after immunisation include infection with non-vaccine serotypes, inadequate or ineffective antibody responses, waning of antibody responses, or compromised nonhumoral host defences. Further studies are needed to determine whether: (i) elderly adults who respond poorly to the 23-valent pneumococcal vaccine can be identified prior to immunisation and targeted for study with improved pneumococcal vaccines; (ii) specific nutrient deficiencies can be identified and corrected to improve the immune responsiveness of elderly adults to the PPS vaccine; (iii) newer protein-conjugate or DNA pneumococcal vaccines may be more uniformly immunogenic for elderly adults; and (iv) whether smoking cessation reduces the risk of invasive pneumococcal infection in elderly adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-311
Number of pages7
JournalDrugs and Aging
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


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