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CDC walks back pneumonia vaccine recommendation for seniors

A box of Prevenar 13, a pneumonia vaccine made by Pfizer.
A European box of Pfizer's pneumococcal vaccine. Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP via Getty Images

In a narrow 8-6 vote today, a federal vaccine advisory panel shot down its 2014 recommendation that all adults 65 and older get a pneumococcal vaccine called Prevnar 13. Instead, the panel said seniors should get the vaccine based on conversations with their clinicians.

Why it matters: Seniors can still get the shot, but the vaccine won't be universally recommended — to the dismay of the vaccine makers. Pfizer sells Prevnar 13, and the drug company's stock shot down 2% once investors learned of the vote.

Details: Several members of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this vote was one of the most difficult they've encountered.

  • The current evidence, presented during today's meeting, shows the vaccine only had marginal benefits for adults 65 and older.
  • However, Prevnar 13 is still universally recommended for children younger than 2.

What they're saying: Because more children are taking the vaccine and fewer are getting sick with pneumococcus, fewer older adults are getting exposed and sick, the experts said.

  • Supplying Prevnar 13 for adults "is not where the public health bang for the buck is," and "we're diluting the message that vaccinating the children is important," said Paul Hunter, a committee member and public health official in Milwaukee who voted against the 2014 recommendation.

1 money thing: Prevnar 13 is Pfizer's best-selling drug. U.S. sales exploded in 2015 after the CDC's recommendation, and although insurance will still cover the pricey vaccine, sales would drop if fewer adults feel like they need to get it.