This is the first time that an influential government panel is recommending a vaccination specifically aiming smokers. The panel brought the decision that adult smokers under 65 years of age should get pneumococcal vaccine, which is already recommended for anyone 65 or older. The shot protects against bacteria that cause pneumonia, meningitis and other illnesses.

Studies have shown that smokers are about four times more likely than nonsmokers to suffer pneumococcal disease. The more cigarettes smoked each day, the higher the odds of developing the illnesses.
The scientists are yet not sure why smokers are more susceptible but some of them believe it has to do with smoking-caused damage that allows the bacteria to more easily attach to the lungs and windpipe.

Pneumococcal infections are the top killers among vaccine-preventable diseases. They are common complications of influenza, especially in the elderly, and is considered responsible for many of the 36,000 annual deaths attributed to flu.

Some members at the meeting argued that it might be more cost effective to recommend the vaccine for smokers age 40+, because pneumococcal disease is not so common among younger smokers.
About one in five college students smoke but there have never been a case of serious pneumococcal disease in a student body.

The shot is, however, not perfect. Designed to protect against 23 strains of pneumococcal bacteria, the vaccine hasn't proved to be very effective against pneumonia, and hasn't been very effective in warding off other pneumococcal illnesses in people with weakened immune systems and people age 80 or older.

Recommendations for smokers are a one-time dose with no booster. The vaccine is sold under the trade name Pneumovax and costs about $30 a dose. Its protection was seen to drop off after five to 10 years.