Elderly citizens were given free pneumonia vaccination to protect them from the disease during the event.
Why the pneumonia vaccination is important for senior citizens
Monica Tulio (The Philippine Star) - December 10, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Adults, especially senior citizens, are 100 times more likely than children to die of diseases that vaccines can prevent, and this would be particularly true for pneumonia,” says Dr. Joel Santiaguel, pulmonologist at the Philippine General Hospital during an interview.

 With age comes many changes in the body and unfortunately, one of these is having a higher risk of acquiring illnesses. Observing a healthy lifestyle may not be enough to protect from microbes that can cause fatal diseases like pneumonia. Senior citizens particularly need protection through immunization to help ensure their health.

 Within the past decade, pneumonia has accounted for over 57,000 deaths among Filipinos annually. In 2016 alone, 57,809 deaths due to pneumonia was recorded, making this disease one of the top five leading causes of death in the country. Up to now, pneumonia prevails as a health problem despite being preventable by vaccination, and some of the most susceptible are the elderly ages 60 and older.

“Pneumonia, in all of its forms and presentations, is definitely a serious problem not only in the Philippines but worldwide.  From the latest data of DOH and PhilHealth, it is number one in terms of PhilHealth claims, amounting to more than P10 billion worth of benefits released to patients, and is the fourth leading cause of death in the country. This is particularly true for those who are in the extremes of age, meaning the very young and the very old,” explains Dr. Santiaguel.

Raising awareness on Pneumonia

 Pneumonia is a disease that causes inflammation of the air sacs in one or both lungs. It can be caused by a variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. Pneumonia is most life-threatening for infants, the elderly, and people with health problems or weakened immune systems. Symptoms may include difficulty of breathing, coughing, fever and weakness.

 Elderly pneumonia patients are more prone to severe complications, hospitalization, and even death due to their weakened immune systems and pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, chronic lung, kidney, or heart conditions, among others.

“Pneumonia can definitely lead to death, especially among the elderly population.  In most hospitals, it would be the leading cause of death, especially in those who acquired it while in the hospital due to the pneumonia being caused by drug-resistant bacteria,” explains Dr. Santiaguel.

He also adds that pneumonia could lead to dangerous infections. “Meningitis is an infection affecting the linings of the brain called the meninges. It is a life-threatening condition, which can be a complication of the Streptococcus pneumoniae infection.”

Dr. Santiaguel emphasizes that pneumonia is not a seasonal disease like influenza, which occur more during the cold months. “In the Philippines, pneumonia has a year-long prevalence, hence the importance of additional protection, like that which can be conferred by vaccination. Just remember that the goal of bacteria that cause pneumonia would be to spread, multiply and survive, which they have been doing very successfully for more than two billion years.”

Dr. Joel Santiaguel, pulmonologist at the Philippine General Hospital, during his “Bakunado si Lolo at Lola, Iwas Pulmonya” lecture at Dapitan Sports Complex in Manila.

Vaccines top the list of ways to control and prevent pneumonia

“Vaccinations are important to protect not only individuals but likewise the general population through herd immunity. Senior citizens and those with co-morbid conditions are particularly more susceptible to develop pneumonia and as such should be prioritized in being given the anti-pneumonia and anti-influenza vaccines.  These are very safe vaccines with minimal side effects” notes Dr. Santiaguel.

In the Philippines, immunization is advised to be given to individuals as early as 50 years old. Patients below 50 years old should be vaccinated as well, particularly those who are alcoholic, are immunocompromised, and with co-morbid conditions like lung and liver disease, according to Dr. Santiaguel.

Another benefit of pneumonia vaccine is that it is a cost-effective way to fight the disease. By preventing pneumonia before exposure, Filipinos may save medication and hospitalization costs, especially the elderly.

Dr. Corazon Flores, OIC Regional Director of Department of Health NCR, supported the campaign which aims to increase uptake of pneumonia vaccines to help ensure the protection and health of Manila’s senior citizens.

The ongoing mission of protecting the elderly Filipinos against Pneumonia

.It is stipulated in the Senior Citizen’s Act that the Department of Health shall administer free pneumonia vaccines to senior citizens in indigent communities. This law is put into action through the National Immunization Program which has made pneumonia vaccination more accessible to senior citizens.

  During the recently-concluded National Elderly Filipino Week, the City of Manila through its City Health Office together with the Department of Health (DOH) and Office of the Senior Citizen Affairs (OSCA) conducted a disease awareness event at the Dapitan Sports Complex in Manila. The event included a lecture on pneumonia and was followed by free administration of pneumonia vaccines to over 500 senior citizens. The effort supported the DOH’s “Bakunado si Lolo at Lola, Iwas Pulmonya” campaign which has been educating senior citizens and caregivers on the value of immunization since 2016.

 Dr. Santiaguel gave the lecture on pneumonia for senior citizens and their caregivers on the importance of fighting the disease through immunization.

  “Let us be proactive in taking care of our elderly citizens, our grandparents. Caregivers play an important role in helping make sure that the senior citizens in their care receive scheduled vaccination.”

Under the DOH’s immunization campaign, elderly Filipinos who are 65 years old will receive one dose of pneumonia vaccine, while those who are 60 years old must receive a second dose after five years following the first dose. Pneumococcal vaccination is done for free across 59 health centers in Manila.

Immunization is crucial in preventing and fighting diseases like pneumonia but more people need to trust the safety and efficacy of vaccines so that more will avail of its protection. Dr. Santiaguel notes, “One big challenge which we need to overcome is increasing the vaccination coverage of the general population.  Current estimates show that we have less than 20percent coverage, which is way below the World Health Organization-recommended minimum of 50percent.”

 By properly educating communities, more people can better understand the healthcare protection given by vaccines and its role in disease elimination which is valuable in fighting for a future where no Filipino need to suffer unnecessarily from vaccine-preventable diseases.

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