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Risk of death not enough to prompt vaccinations for lung infection

Not enough people are protecting themselves from a potentially fatal lung disease, respiratory disease experts have said.

The call coincides with the release of Lung Foundation Australia research that found three quarters of Australian adults couldn’t be motivated to protect against pneumococcal pneumonia, despite being informed of its serious and potentially fatal complications.

Associate professor Lucy Morgan, respiratory physician and chair of Lung Foundation Australia’s Respiratory Infectious Disease Committee, said even among high risk groups, such as those aged over 65, there are no overwhelmingly high motivators for vaccination.

“Pneumonia and pneumonia-like illness is among the top 15 contributing causes of death nationally and among the top five leading causes of hospitalisation in Australia,” Morgan said. “All adults aged 65 and over are at increased risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia due to their age alone and many more have existing chronic medical conditions or lifestyle factors (current or past smoking) that place them at heightened risk of infection.”

Morgan said of immediate concern is that that just under one-in-three survey respondents aged 65 and above strongly agree their age puts them at risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia, while two-in-five of those yet to be vaccinated don’t consider themselves to be at risk.

The survey also revealed 38 per cent of those aged 65 and above, who are yet to be vaccinated, are not aware of the pneumococcal vaccine’s existence.

In total, 20 per cent of Australian adults have had a pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination in the past. This compares to 48 per cent who have had a flu shot.

Professor Robert Booy, infectious diseases paediatrician at the University of Sydney, said there is a clear discrepancy in awareness of pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination compared to flu vaccination and added health statistics reveal an even greater discrepancy between childhood and adult pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination rates.

Booy said while many older adults care for children who are mostly immunised against pneumococcal pneumonia, they fail to protect themselves in the same way.

“We’re achieving 93 per cent pneumococcal vaccine uptake among Australian children. However, among equally vulnerable seniors, we’re failing to achieve even 50 per cent pneumococcal vaccine uptake, which could offer up to five more years of high quality life for an individual,” he said. “Given grandchildren may pass pneumonia onto their grandparents, and vice-versa, protecting against pneumococcal infection would enrich their lives, allowing them to spend more quality time caring for, and interacting with their grandchildren.”

Lung Foundation Australia encouraged all Australians, particularly those in high risk groups, to recognise that pneumonia is life-threatening and take appropriate steps to protect against it.

Heather Allan, chief executive of The Foundation said Australians need to know pneumonia and know that immunisation in an important step to take to protect themselves against infection.

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