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Vaccines Bolster Immune Systems That Weaken with Age

(August 14, 2017)

Think adults don't need vaccinations? Guess again. Even healthy older adults are at increased risk for serious lung diseases like pneumococcal pneumonia and influenza, because the body's immune system naturally weakens with age. August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and the American Lung Association, in partnership with Pfizer, is dispelling the myth that vaccines are just for children.

A preventive healthcare measure, vaccines work by teaching the body's immune system to recognize and defend against harmful viruses or bacteria before getting an infection, and reduce the chance of getting certain infectious diseases. Older adults and those with weakened immune systems or certain chronic health conditions – like asthma or COPD – are especially vulnerable to infectious disease. In fact, for adults 65 and older living with COPD, the risk for contracting pneumococcal pneumonia is 7.7 times higher than their healthy counterparts, and those with asthma are at 5.9 times greater risk.

An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 adults in the United States die from vaccine-preventable infectious diseases or their complications each year. More than just a bad cold, influenza and pneumonia are potentially serious infections that are among those vaccine-preventable infectious diseases.

  • Pneumococcal Pneumonia, the most common type of bacterial pneumonia, is often spread through coughing. The symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia can come quickly and may include high fever, excessive sweating and shaking chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee recommends that all adults 65 years or older receive pneumococcal vaccination.
  • Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a highly contagious virus that is usually spread through coughing or sneezing. Symptoms can impact the entire body and may include fever, headache, muscle aches, a dry cough, sore throat and nasal congestion.13 Health officials recommend that everyone six months of age and older receive an influenza vaccination every year.

"When recommending vaccination for influenza and pneumococcal disease, I tell my patients with already compromised lungs from smoking or chronic lung diseases like asthma and COPD that they may have difficultly handling pulmonary infections," says Albert Rizzo, M.D., Senior Medical Advisor to the American Lung Association. "In these cases the infections can result in hospitalizations, longer recovery time and at times, even death."

Ask Your Healthcare Provider
Ask your healthcare provider to review your status and see if you are up-to-date on all your vaccinations, including for pneumococcal and influenza. Vaccination may be recommended depending on your age and risk factors.

Hygiene Helps
Maintaining good hygiene—including regular handwashing—is also important in helping to prevent pneumococcal pneumonia, influenza and other infectious illnesses.

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