August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and a yearly reminder of the importance of vaccines. It can be difficult in the United States to fully understand how important vaccination is, because many diseases are becoming very rare largely because of vaccination. Take the measles for instance. Prior to the development and distribution of the measles vaccine in 1963, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. Today, most doctors have never seen a case of measles and the CDC declared that the measles were eliminated from the United States in 2000 due to increased measures to vaccinate all children. That being said, there have been recent outbreaks of measles in unvaccinated children, which highlights the need for continued vaccination.
But adults also need vaccines. Age alone increases the risk of potentially serious lung infections for more than 47 million Americans over the age of 65, because the body’s immune system naturally weakens with age. 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.
But still, an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 adults in the United States die from vaccine-preventable infectious diseases or their complications each year. Influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia are potentially serious lung infections that are among those vaccine-preventable infectious diseases.
Most vaccine-preventable diseases are spread from person to person, which means that if one person in a community gets an infectious disease, they can spread it to others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an individual can help stop the spread of certain diseases through vaccination. So if the general population is vaccinated, there are fewer opportunities for vaccine-preventable diseases to spread.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 goal for influenza vaccination is 70 percent, but rates are currently at 43 percent. In addition, the Healthy People goal for any pneumococcal vaccination for adults 65 and older is 90 percent, but rates are only around 56 percent—well below the national goal. Healthy People provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans.
Access your risk for pneumococcal pneumonia through our online quiz, developed in partnership with Pfizer.
Influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia are serious lung infections we should not ignore. And older adults and those with weakened immune systems or certain chronic health conditions – like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (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.
This August, learn more about influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia, and talk to your doctor to see if you are up to date on your adult vaccinations. It’s always better to help prevent a disease rather than treat it after it occurs.
Content was developed in partnership with Pfizer Inc.