From Our Chief Medical Officer, Norman H. Edelman, MD

While antivirals are available to lessen the severity of influenza, immunization remains key in influenza control. The American Lung Association recently released a report detailing that alarmingly, millions of Americans over age 65 are not being vaccinated, especially older African Americans and Hispanics who are at increased risk from influenza and pneumonia.

In this issue of Promise of Research, we introduce you to mother-daughter influenza victims, everyday spokespersons for our Faces of Influenza campaign. Before they contracted serious cases of the flu, they were healthy, with no pre-existing conditions. Today they both suffer long-term effects of their treatments for the flu, which impact their daily lives. They are like any of us—people who can and should be protected from the flu with a vaccine.

We also profile a young researcher whose work holds the promise of combating antibiotic-resistance of pneumonia-causing organisms. Dr. Hakansson’s focus illustrates the complex nature of pneumonia, which actually has more than 30 causes—various bacteria, viruses, chemicals or fungi. Because effective treatment depends on the exact cause, research must focus on precise diagnostic tools as well as treatments such as antibiotics that can break through to even the most resistant bacteria.

The stories we bring you in this issue convey the need for cutting-edge research that investigators are pursuing to maximize flu and pneumonia immunization and create novel, focused treatments.

Millions of Elderly Americans Not Immunized

Millions of Americans over the age of 65 are not getting immunized against influenza and pneumonia, despite the fact that safe and effective vaccines are readily available. A new American Lung Association report, “Missed Opportunities: Influenza and Pneumonia Vaccination in Older Adults,” finds that the core of the problem is that some patients are not asking to be vaccinated, and some doctors are not recommending it when seeing patients.

African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately at risk of having pre-existing conditions such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes that further increases the risk of severe illness and death from influenza and pneumonia. If older African Americans and Hispanics were vaccinated at the same rates as whites, an estimated 25 percent of flu-related deaths among these groups could be prevented every year. “This is a ticking time bomb,” said Jim Gooden, National volunteer Chair of the American Lung Association.  “As baby boomers age, and the nation’s elderly population rises, the toll of influenza and pneumonia will likely increase. It’s important that we address this health disparity now to prevent serious illness and save lives in the future.”