What Are the Vaccine Recommendations If You Have COPD?
June 21, 2023

What Are the Vaccine Recommendations If You Have COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for a group of chronic (long-term) lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These lung conditions make it difficult to expel air from the lungs. COPD is progressive. This means it gets worse over time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 15.7 million people in the United States have a diagnosis of COPD — or about 6.4 percent of the U.S. population.

Because COPD impairs breathing, contracting a respiratory infection can have serious consequences for people with COPD. But there are vaccines available that can help prevent some of these infections.

The COVID-19 vaccine and COPD

People with COPD are more likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19, the disease caused by an infection with SARS-CoV-2. Serious COVID-19 illness may result in:

  • hospitalization
  • being placed on a ventilator
  • death

A 2021 study found that the mortality rate from COVID-19 was 15 percent  for people with COPD, compared with 4 percent for people without COPD.

The study also found that people with COPD were more likely to have other health conditions that increase the risk of severe COVID-19, including:

The CDC recommends that all people 5 years of age and older get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The American Lung Association also encourages people with chronic lung diseases like COPD to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to help prevent severe illness.

There are three COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine
  • Moderna mRNA vaccine
  • Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J) adenovirus vector vaccine

According to the CDC, the two mRNA vaccines are preferred over the J&J vaccine because they’re considered more effective and safer.

Booster shots from an mRNA vaccine are also recommended for all people ages 12 and over. You can get boosted at least 5 months after your first round of mRNA vaccines, or at least 2 months after getting the J&J vaccine.

Anyone who received a J&J vaccine and then a booster with a second dose of J&J can also get a second booster with one of the mRNA vaccines.

Adults over the age of 50 and people with specific immune system conditions  can also now get a second booster at least 4 months after their first booster.

The flu vaccine and COPD

Having COPD also increases your risk of potentially serious complications from the flu. During recent flu seasons, 9 out of 10Trusted Source people hospitalized for the flu had a chronic health condition, such as COPD or heart disease.

The CDCTrusted Source recommends that all people ages 6 months or older receive a flu vaccine each year. This is particularly important for people with chronic health conditions.

2019 study evaluated 4,755 hospitalized people who also had COPD. In this group, having the flu was associated with an increased risk of critical illness or death. But receiving the flu vaccine was associated with a 38 percent reduction in flu-related hospitalizations.

The pneumococcal vaccine and COPD

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae. It can cause pneumonia. Older adults, especially those with chronic lung conditions like COPD, are at an increased risk of pneumococcal disease.

The CDC  recommends that people ages 19 and older with certain medical conditions, including COPD, receive a pneumococcal vaccine.

Vaccination for pneumococcal disease in adults typically includes one dose of the PCV20 vaccine. But a dose of the PCV15 vaccine followed by a dose of the PPSV23 vaccine a year later may also be used.

2017 review looked at 12 studies on pneumococcal vaccines in people with COPD. The review found that vaccination:

  • helped protect against community-acquired pneumonia
  • reduced the likelihood of COPD exacerbation

The Tdap vaccine and COPD

The Tdap vaccine is used to help prevent:

It has traditionally been used to help prevent whooping cough (pertussis) in children younger than 6. But as of 2005, it has become available for adults, including those who have COPD.

2020 review reported that pertussis infections were becoming more common around the world. At the same time, COPD cases have also been rising. Tdap vaccination helps lower your risk of pertussis infection, which can be especially harmful if you have COPD.

2021 study also found that people with COPD in the United Kingdom needed additional medical care and incurred higher costs from pertussis infections.

The CDC recommends that anyone with COPD or other respiratory conditions, including asthma, get the Tdap vaccine to reduce the risk of complications or death from any of the infections that the vaccine is meant to prevent.

The herpes zoster vaccine and COPD

The CDC also recommends that people with COPD get vaccinated against herpes zoster (shingles).

People are much more likely to get shingles as they get older. The National Institute on Aging  estimates that half of all people who get shingles are ages 60 or older. COPD is also most common in older adults.

A 2018 study of nearly 2.3 million people in Spain found that people with COPD were 45 to 61 percent  more susceptible to getting herpes zoster.

Since your immune system tends to become weaker with age, shingles can be even more dangerous if you already have symptoms or complications related to COPD, especially because people with COPD can develop shingles more easily.

Are there any complications associated with COPD without vaccination?

If you have COPD, getting a respiratory infection can make your symptoms worse. This is called COPD exacerbation and can make it much harder for you to breathe.

COPD exacerbations can sometimes be treated at home. But people with more severe COPD may need to be hospitalized. This can involve the use of oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation to help your body get enough oxygen.

Some other potential complications that can happen due to respiratory infections in people with COPD include:

  • Pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection that causes the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) to swell or fill with liquid.
  • Pleural effusion. Pleural effusion is a buildup of fluid in the tissues between the lungs and the chest wall.
  • Lung abscess. A lung abscess is a pocket of pus that forms in your lungs, often due to a bacterial infection.
  • Sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening bodily response to an infection.
  • Respiratory failure. With respiratory failure, your lungs cannot get enough oxygen to your blood or cannot remove enough carbon dioxide from the blood.

The takeaway

Respiratory infections can cause potentially serious complications in people with COPD. But some of these infections are preventable through vaccination.

Public health experts recommend that people with COPD get certain vaccines to help reduce the likelihood of serious respiratory complications. These vaccines include those for:

  • COVID-19
  • the flu
  • pneumococcal disease
  • Tdap
  • herpes zoster (shingles)

If you have COPD, talk with a doctor about your current vaccinations. They can let you know which vaccines you may need and when you should receive them.