How to Fight What’s Killing Seniors — And Win

How to Fight What’s Killing Seniors — And Win


There is considerable attention given to children’s vaccines. Even, somewhat ironically, the baseless “anti-vaxxer” arguments have prompted greater enthusiasm for the benefits of these miracle medicines.  But the other half of the battle has yet to be waged. Where is the serious global immunization campaign for adults and elders?

There are new vaccines for adults — everything from pneumonia to shingles — that can save lives and horrible pain for adults. Preventing pneumonia will also save a fortune in health care costs — roughly $4 billion annually. In the U.S. alone, about 1 million people are hospitalized with pneumonia each year, and 50,000 die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The innovative vaccines available to both kids and “seniors” can actually prevent diseases like pneumonia from ever infecting our bodies in the first place.

But few people are aware they exist.

World Pneumonia Day, November 12, strives to achieve the same goals as the WHO’s Decade of Vaccines: raise awareness of the vaccine and highlight the substantial public health challenge that is occurring at both ends of our age spectrum.

Related: Why Adult Vaccination Is an Economic No Brainer

The facts are straightforward, even if the culture of prevention is not. Pneumonia is a life-threatening respiratory infection that has become one of the leading causes of death throughout the world. Moreover, a disease with observable symptoms makes treatment minimally complex. 

Immunizations among adults remain below target levels. These substandard vaccination rates create unnecessary costs, unwanted health outcomes, and poor utilization of health resources. A report by the Global Coalition on Aging in 2013 posited the notion of a “life-course approach to immunization.” According to GCOA, this approach is “promising, but underutilized … [and] stresses vaccinations throughout all our stages of life.” 

Preventing diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia among older adults can save families and health systems huge amounts of money. Pneumonia can have a dramatic impact on individuals, including missed work, long-term health-related complications, and even death.It can affect caregivers as well, who may also miss work, lose income, and bear emotional consequences as they bear the burden of their parents and grandparents whose pneumonia could have been prevented. 

With 1 billion of us over 60 – and the most rapidly growing demographic globally over 80 – surely health officials can also communicate the alerts for adults to reduce their risks of pneumonia through the community-wide use of vaccines. Can’t we in the health community walk and chew gum at the same time? Immunization for the children and for adults!  

It’s time to do something about this growing health challenge, which puts seniors at risk. It is one of the rare moments when public health, economic value, and morality intersect. If we get it right, the marketplace will stimulate further R&D and lead to even more valuable innovation.