ShareThis Page

Pneumonia vaccines critical in saving lives during flu season

| Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, 7:42 p.m.
Dr. Cary Sennett is the president and CEO at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Dr. Cary Sennett is the president and CEO at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Dr. Todd Green is a physician in the division of pulmonary medicine, allergy & immunology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, member of AAFA’s medical-scientific council, and associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Dr. Todd Green is a physician in the division of pulmonary medicine, allergy & immunology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, member of AAFA’s medical-scientific council, and associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

No matter where you look, the news is filled with stories about breakthrough medical therapies to treat cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses impacting our lives.

We are fortunate to live in a time when science is rapidly extending the therapeutic frontier. That good luck can sometimes distract us from the reality that many Americans still suffer and die from easily preventable conditions. Yet most problems associated with this challenge don't need revolutionary solutions. We can save lives, reduce illness and curb rising health care costs through the simple act of getting vaccinated against many common infections.

Access to one group of vaccines in particular is critically important to physicians who are working to improve the lives of Americans with asthma, a respiratory condition with no cure that affects approximately 25 million people across the country.

Health risks from pneumonia are potentially more dangerous than those related to the flu, but large segments of the population aren't being vaccinated against it — even those at the highest risk of contracting the disease. They include infants, the elderly and those with chronic respiratory problems like asthma.

Streptococcus pneumoniae (“pneumococcus”) is the bacterium responsible for almost a million cases and more than 50,000 deaths from pneumonia every year — twice as many as the number of flu deaths annually. That's an average of 125 deaths per day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 400,000 hospitalizations from pneumococcal pneumonia occur annually.

The good news is pneumococcal pneumonia can be prevented. We have inexpensive, safe, effective and readily available vaccines.

The discouraging news is the vast majority of Americans who should be immunized against pneumococcal disease are not. According to a 2015 report authored by Cleveland Clinic researchers for the CDC, pneumococcal coverage among adults ages 19 to 64 in high risk groups was just more than 21 percent overall.

The CDC also reported 40 percent of seniors are not vaccinated for pneumonia, despite the fact it affects about 900,000 adults 65 and older each year. Immunization rates for this group are up only slightly in the past decade.

Closer to home, Pittsburgh's ongoing struggles with its air quality continue to impact the region's health. According to the American Lung Association's 2016 “State of the Air” report, the Pittsburgh metro area remains among the most polluted of more than 200 metro areas in the United States. Deborah Brown, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said these findings are “putting our citizens at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and cardiovascular harm.”

It's therefore essential for those in high-risk age groups or suffering from respiratory disorders to get vaccinated against pneumococcal disease. In fact, at its annual press conference to encourage flu vaccination in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 29, the CDC stressed the importance for people in these groups to receive the pneumococcal shot at the same time they receive the flu shot.

Fortunately, it's very simple. If you have a child between the ages of 2 and 5, are older than 65 or suffer from a respiratory problem such as asthma, then talk to your health care provider about vaccination for pneumonia.

Let's not allow the miraculous revolutions in medicine we're witnessing diminish the importance of guarding against the illnesses we can already prevent.

Dr. Cary Sennett is the president and CEO at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Dr. Todd Green is a physician in the division of pulmonary medicine, allergy & immunology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, a member of AAFA's medical-scientific council and an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.