Vaccination urged for senior citizens

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 24, 1999

L’Observateur / August 24, 1999

Senior citizens in the River Parishes and younger people with other risk factors are being urged to take advantage of a new vaccine that could prevent infections that kill an estimated 40,000 people across the country every year, more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined.

Pneumococcal disease, caused by a bacteria, results in upper respiratory tract infections, lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and other potentially life-threatening infections including meningitis. Personsover age 65 are three times more likely to get a pneumococcal infection.

Officials say that vaccinating against these life-threatening diseases with the pneumoccal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) that came out earlier this year could prevent 90 percent of infections. The vaccine is availableat health units across the state including those in the River Parishes.

Older people who have not yet been vaccinated are encouraged to do so.

“We’ve had many inquiries about the vaccine,” says Frances McDonald, nursing supervisor at the St. John Parish Health Unit. “We started out with50 doses and we’ve given about 30.”Unlike the flu vaccine that has to be administered a few months before the flu season, the PPV can be given at any time. And, for most older people,only one vaccine is required.

“People older than 65 never need another dose,” McDonald says. A seconddose is recommended for those people aged 65 and older who got their first dose when they were under 65, if five or more years have passed since that dose, she adds.

Drugs such as penicillin were once effective in treating pneumococcal infections, but the disease has become more resistant to these drugs, making treatment of the infections more difficult. This makes preventionof the disease through vaccination even more important.

Besides those over 65, people with the following risk factors should look into preventing infection by getting vaccinated: Residents of long-term or chronic care facility.

Chronic illnesses Diabetes Heart Disease Lung Disease Kidney Disease Conditions associated with impaired immune dysfunction Cancer Liver Disease HIV infection or AIDS Alcohol abuse Hodgkin’s Disease Sickle Cell Anemia Asplenia (non-functioning spleen) A second dose is recommended for those with the above conditions who receive the vaccine.

The PPV prevents against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. Most healthyadults who get the vaccine develop protection to most or all of these types within two or three weeks of getting the shot.

Health Unit officials says the PPV is a very safe vaccine. About half ofthose who get the vaccine have very mild side effects, such as redness or pain where the shot is given. Less than one percent develop more severelocal reactions. But officials say getting pneumococcal disease is muchmore likely to cause serious problems than getting the vaccine.

“We’ve contacted the Council on Aging about the vaccine,” says McDonald.

“We’ll go to the Council on Aging office to give it. Or if someone is ashut-in and they request the shot, we’ll go to their home.”Pneumococcal vaccination is covered by Medicare and many private insurers.

Persons are asked to contact their local health unit for more information about the vaccine.

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