Big News for Older Adults: Pneumococcal Vaccine Approved

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June 18, 2024 – There’s a new tool to fight invasive pneumococcal disease and pneumococcal pneumonia in adults, as the FDA approved Merck’s new vaccine designed to prevent the disorders. 

The injectable drug, Capvaxive, specifically protects against 22 serotypes, or strains of bacteria, that cause invasive pneumococcal disease in adults, the company said in a news release. Those strains account for about 84% of invasive pneumococcal disease cases in adults 50 and over and about 85% of these cases in adults 65 and above, Merck said. 

The drug company said about 150,000 adults in the U.S. are hospitalized yearly because of pneumococcal pneumonia. 

“Complications from invasive pneumococcal disease can lead to hospitalization, organ damage and even death,” Walter Orenstein, MD, a professor emeritus of medicine, epidemiology, global health, and pediatrics at Emory University and a member of Merck’s Scientific Advisory Committee, said in the release. “Many cases of adult disease are caused by serotypes not included in other approved pneumococcal conjugate vaccines,” 

The drug can’t go on the market quite yet. A draft agenda shows a CDC advisory panel will meet June 27 to discuss the vaccine. If the committee votes to approve it, the CDC director will decide whether to make it available across the country.

Testing showed that Capvaxive was well-tolerated by people it was tested on, with the main complaints being pain where they got the shot, fatigue, headaches, and muscle aches, Merck said.

According to Reuters, Merck said Capvaxive has a wholesale acquisition price of $287 per dose, but most people will probably have access to it at no cost if the drug receives a routine CDC recommendation. Capvaxive’s main competition is expected to be Pfizer's shot, Prevnar 20, which was approved in 2021 for use in adults age 18 years or older, Reuters said.

Correction added June 20, 2024: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the vaccine protects against 21 serotypes. It actually provides protection against 22.