November 12 marks World Pneumonia Day, a campaign to educate the public about this disease and to advocate for global action to treat and prevent it. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death globally for children under the age of 5, claiming the lives of more than 1.5 million children annually. Pneumonia is also largely a vaccine-preventable disease. Since the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines in the U.S. in 2000, morbidity and mortality from pneumonia have decreased. Vaccines against haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) and measles have also reduced the incidence of pneumonia. However, a similar impact has not been felt in the developing world, where there is still limited access to these life-saving vaccines. The Pneumococcal Accelerated Development and Introduction Plan (PneumoADIP), financed by the GAVI Alliance, is a program to accelerate the evaluation of and access to pneumococcal vaccines in poorer parts of the world, with the goal of saving 5.4 million children from pneumonia by 2030.
While initiatives such as World Pneumonia Day and PneumoADIP serve the important purpose of addressing the impact of pneumonia on children, we must not forget about the impact of this disease on adults, particularly the elderly. In the U.S. each year, there are an estimated 175,000 hospitalized cases of pneumococcal pneumonia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), invasive pneumococcal disease causes more than 6,000 deaths annually and in more than half of these cases, vaccination against pneumococcal disease was recommended. All adults over the age of 65 who lack evidence of immunity are recommended to receive pneumococcal vaccination by the CDC, as are younger adults with certain risk factors. Despite this recommendation and full coverage of the vaccine under Medicare Part B, only 60.6% of adults 65 years and older received the vaccine in 2009.
On November 12, World Pneumonia Day, each of us should consider vaccinations against pneumonia for our loved ones, young and old, and for ourselves, if appropriate and recommended. Vaccination is the best protection that we have against this serious disease.