At-risk older Australians shun free vaccine

Many older at-risk Australians are failing to take advantage of a free vaccine for the potentially deadly infection pneumococcal pneumonia, health experts are warning.

Lung Foundation Australia says pneumonia claims the lives of about 2000 elderly people each year and is concerned that the vaccination rate for people aged 65 and over has fallen to below 50 per cent.

It says that each year about 15,000 people visit their doctor due to pneumococcal pneumonia and about 8000 people are hospitalised.

Researchers at University of NSW’s Vaccine and Infection Research Lab say governments and doctors must work harder to spread the message that the potentially life-threatening condition is preventable.

“The most recent data suggest pneumococcal vaccination coverage has actually declined to 47 per cent in NSW, with more than half of these vaccinations occurring after 70 years of age,” said the university’s infectious diseases researcher Dr Rob Menzies.

“This decline must be urgently reversed. Doctors should be looking to opportunistically vaccinate those at risk of pneumococcal pneumonia in the same way as they do for other population-based programs.”

The researchers told MJA Insight that the main vaccine was provided free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule in the form of a single dose for otherwise healthy people aged 65 years and over. They said people with chronic disease or smokers aged under 65 years should get a prescription from their GP and buy the vaccine which generally costs about $40, but is free in some states.

“It is important for individuals to take the initiative for their own health,” Dr Menzies said. “Anyone who smokes, has a chronic disease, has an immuno-compromising condition or is aged 65 years or older should talk to their GP about whether they should have a pneumococcal vaccination, or revaccination.

“Given pneumonia is a potentially life-threatening respiratory infection, should an individual develop a cough, fever, shortness of breath and feel generally tired and unwell, they should head to their doctor without delay.”

Have you had a vaccination for pneumonia? Do you intend to get one?

This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Janelle Ward

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