"I am not aware of any data suggesting that . . . pregnant women are at increased risk of pneumonia, whether during a pandemic or not," Moore said. In fact, most of the pregnant women who have died from pandemic flu have suffered viral pneumonia, for which Pneumovax offers no protection.
The vaccine is relatively inexpensive. Merck charges $33 for the necessary one dose, and physicians who administer it typically charge the patient $50 to $75, which is covered by Medicare and private insurance.
Grabenstein said the company has "millions of doses" on hand and can ramp up production fairly quickly to produce more.
The side effects "are mostly local, including swelling and tenderness," Horovitz said. "Significant side effects are rare unless you are dealing with someone who has a problem with vaccines in general."
Most physicians would probably give the vaccine to patients who are not in one of the high-risk groups, but who ask for it anyway.
Dr. Linda Rosenstock, dean of UCLA's School of Public Health, speculates that Pneumovax has not been promoted more heavily because the H1N1 pandemic has so far been perceived to be milder than seasonal flu. If the virus mutates to become more deadly, then the recommendations will become stronger, she believes.
But she argues that increased efforts should be made to vaccinate more people. "As a public health measure, it makes sense to target the groups we would be most worried about, independent of the pandemic."