He was a husband to Betty; a father to Joel, Cindy and Abe; and a grandfather to Becky and Gordon. He survived the Battle at Normandy, years of protecting his community as a decorated police officer and skin cancer. Despite all his strength and love of life, Charlie didn't make it through his battle against the bacterial disease known as streptococcus pneumonia.
Even though years have gone by since Charlie's passing, I often think of him and how he might still be here if he'd only received a widely available but underutilized vaccine that can prevent the occurrence of more than 90 percent of all cases of pneumococcal disease. We can't turn the clock back for Charlie, but we can use the present time to help ourselves.
Unfortunately, the media hasn't focused on this bacteria, which causes more than 500,000 cases of pneumonia (infection of the lungs), 60,000 cases of bacteremia (infection of the blood) and more than 3,300 cases of meningitis (inflammation of the tissues and fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord) each year in the United States. These numbers account for more than 175,000 hospitalizations and up to 40,000 deaths. In fact, more than half of these deaths can be prevented by a vaccine.
Here's What We Know About the Pneumococcal Vaccine:
- Pneumococcal vaccine can be given at any time of the year.
- It can be given at the same time as the influenza vaccine.
- The vaccine is fully covered by Medicare Part B if your healthcare provider accepts the Medicare-approved reimbursement amount.
- You can't get pneumococcal disease from the vaccine.
- A single dose of the vaccine is recommended for most people over age 65, and a booster shot may be needed within seven years.
- Pneumococcal disease can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.
Who Should Get the Pneumococcal Vaccine?
The National Coalition for Adult Immunization strongly encourages the following persons to get this potentially life-saving vaccine:
- Those age 65 or older.
- Those age 2 or older who have a chronic illness such as cardiovascular or pulmonary (lung) diseases, sickle cell disease, diabetes, alcoholism, chronic liver diseases or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks.
- Those with a weakened immune system due to illnesses such as HIV infection, AIDS, chronic renal failure, organ transplantation, Hodgkin's disease, lymphoma and multiple myeloma, as well as those who have had their spleen removed or whose spleen is dysfunctional due to an illness like sickle cell disease.
- People in environments or settings with increased risk of pneumococcal disease, such as nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.
- Certain Native American or Native Alaskan populations.
Even though the pneumococcal vaccine has proven to be safe and effective in preventing illness and even death, only 54 percent of adults age 65 or older have received it. Even more disturbing is the fact that only 8 to 10 percent of adults in the highest risk groups for getting this disease have received the vaccine. This is insanity! Please don't wait until it is too late: protect yourself and your loved ones. Ask your physician or healthcare provider if pneumococcal vaccination is right for you.