August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and the American Lung Association is reminding adults with serious lung diseases that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination against common lung pathogens.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee recommends that all adults aged 65 years or older receive pneumococcal vaccination. For influenza virus, which is responsible for flu, health officials recommend yearly influenza vaccination for everyone of six months of age and older.
Vaccination is a preventive measure recommended not only for people with lung disease, but for healthy older adults, who are also at increased risk for bacterial pneumonia and infections with influenza viruses.
Vaccines teach our immune system to recognize specific proteins that are expressed only by pathogens – harmful viruses or bacteria – before we contact them for the first time. This enables the body to mount a fast and efficient immune response to eliminate them and prevent disease.
People with weakened immune systems, such as older people or patients with certain chronic health conditions – like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – are at higher risk for infections.
According to the American Lung Association, the leading organization focused on improving lung health, adults over age 65 living with COPD have a 7.7 times higher risk of contracting bacterial pneumonia, such as the one caused by Streptococcus pneumonia (the most common type of bacterial pneumonia), compared with healthy, age-matched individuals. In the case of asthma patients, the risk is 5.9 times higher.
An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 adults in the United States die from infectious diseases for which vaccines are available, according to the American Lung Association.
“It’s always better to help prevent a disease than to treat it after it occurs,” Norman Edelman, Senior Scientific Advisor to the American Lung Association, said in a press release. “Vaccines are vital to protecting lung health, especially when it comes to influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia, which can have a devastating impact on the lives of those whose lungs are already compromised by asthma, COPD, and other chronic respiratory conditions.”