Why The Elderly Should Get Pneumococcal Vaccine

In an ageing population with a high burden of vaccine-preventable diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia, vaccines are equally as important in adults as they are in children.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — A survey by the Malaysian Thoracic Society (MTS) showed half of respondents mistakenly believed that only babies and children are susceptible to pneumococcal disease. 

The online survey among 503 respondents conducted by MTS from April 13 to April 20 this year also revealed that more than half of the respondents (62 per cent) were not aware that pneumococcal pneumonia can be prevented through vaccination.

In fact, older adults aged 50 and above are predisposed to the disease because of their impaired gag reflex, impaired mucociliary function, declining immunity, and presence of underlying health conditions.

MTS’ survey aimed to find out Malaysians’ knowledge on pneumonia, their behavioural patterns in relation to health care choices, and their perceptions on vaccination. 

A total of 58 per cent of respondents cited poor awareness as one of the main barriers that prevent people from getting vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia.

Only 24 per cent of survey respondents believe that all adults over the age of 50 should be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, while another 26 per cent of survey respondents think that only people with chronic conditions need to be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.

Half of the survey respondents were not sure regarding who should be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.

MTS stated that pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). People with pneumococcal disease can spread the bacteria to others when they cough or sneeze. 

Globally, pneumonia affects approximately 450 million people a year, especially the elderly and those with comorbidities. It is a major cause of death among all age groups, resulting in 1.4 million deaths in 2010 (seven per cent of the world’s yearly total) and 2.38 million deaths in 2016 (the fourth leading cause of death in the world).

According to MTS, in Malaysia, pneumonia was the second leading cause of death in 2018, and the principal cause of death for females at 12.8 per cent.

The MTS, supported by Pfizer Malaysia, shared the online survey results during the launch of “You Are Our Best Shot”, an integrated public awareness campaign last April.

The campaign focused on encouraging pneumococcal vaccination among older adults in Malaysia as an integral part of healthy ageing and public health.

“In an ageing population with a high burden of vaccine-preventable diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia, vaccines are equally as important in adults as they are in children. Older adults have a far higher risk of contracting infections and severe complications than younger people, and their impact is often greater, with poorer outcomes,” said MTS president Asosc Prof Dr Pang Yong Kek, who is also a senior consultant respiratory physician.

“As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’, and this certainly rings true, from cost-effectiveness, productivity, use of health care resources and risk to others. Pneumonia in the elderly can be very serious – even deadly.”

“We hope the campaign can raise awareness and educate people that vaccines are not just for babies and children. Everyone has a critical role to play in ensuring people of all ages have the opportunity to prevent illness through vaccination.”

The survey also discovered that 71 per cent of respondents have at least encouraged their parents or elderly loved ones to go for a medical check-up in the past year, and doctors remain the primary or most trusted source of medical information. 

“As a health care practitioner, I implore my peers and colleagues to proactively raise the topic of vaccination and debunk misinformation. With the commitment of multiple parties, not only we will be able to protect ourselves but those around us by making it more difficult for an infectious disease to spread. This is known as ‘herd immunity’ and is yet another example of the unique public health benefits of vaccination,” Dr Pang added.

Luksanawan Thangpaibool, the country manager for Pfizer Malaysia and Brunei, mentioned that generally, the public is unaware of the impact caused by infectious diseases to individuals and communities. 

Luksanawan emphasised that vaccination is a crucial cornerstone in keeping the communities healthy as it protects them from many serious infectious diseases at every stage of life.

“It is important for people to consult their doctors on how they can protect themselves and their loved ones against vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Luksanawan.

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