Seniors urged to protect against fatal lung infection

Only one per cent of Australians aged 18–74 understand age-appropriate vaccination is vital to maintaining good health, while just 20 per cent of those at most risk of infection have been vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia, according to new figures set for release today to mark Pneumonia Awareness Week (May 9-15, 2016).

Lung Foundation Australia’s ‘Breathe well, age well’ research reveals two-in-three (66 per cent) Australian adults consider themselves to be younger and fitter than their parents were at their age, and many therefore underestimate the potential for vaccination to ‘add years to life.’

A staggering 87 per cent of seniors (aged 65 – 74) cite they are younger and fitter than their parent’s generation were at their age, and 65 per cent do not consider their age to be a health-risk factor. Furthermore, the majority of folks in this age group (57 per cent) do not believe that contracting the often fatal lung infection, pneumococcal pneumonia, would have a major impact on their lives.

Respiratory physician and Lung Foundation Australia National Council member, Associate Professor Lucy Morgan, Sydney,  said while the so-called “Super seniors” positive attitude towards their health is admirable, 52 per cent of this age group surveyed are at increased risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia through an existing medical condition or lifestyle factors (current or past smoking).

“We are seeing the rise of a generation of healthy, fit and fabulous Australians in their mid-60s who love to travel and to care for their grandchildren. They take good care of themselves, and are dedicated to ‘adding years to life’, by exercising and eating well, but don’t realise that developing pneumococcal pneumonia could change all of that.

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“The stark reality is, all adults aged 65 and over are at increased risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia due to their age alone, and pneumococcal vaccination can ‘add life to years,’ Prof Morgan said.

Pneumococcal pneumonia is a severe lung infection caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, and it’s responsible for a large proportion of pneumonia cases among people aged 65 years and above.

“While the majority of Australians (64 per cent) aged 18-74 have had a flu shot at some stage in their lives, only 20 per cent of those at highest risk of infection, cite they have been vaccinated against this often fatal lung infection,” said Prof Morgan.

Worryingly, the ‘Breathe well, age well’ research found the majority of Australians at-risk of pneumococcal pneumonia do not intend to vaccinate against the preventable infection.

This year, Pneumonia Awareness Week aims to raise awareness, especially among older Australians, of the importance of protecting against pneumococcal pneumonia, given among seniors aged 65–74 who report they are yet to vaccinate against pneumococcal pneumonia, 40 per cent are not even aware of the pneumococcal vaccine’s existence.

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A/Prof Morgan said that while the vaccination rate for pneumonia is highest among those aged 65–74 years at 37 per cent, this still leaves the majority, almost two-thirds of people aged 65-74 years, unvaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia.

“Of great concern, is the fact that the rate of vaccination among this age group remains low despite our efforts to raise awareness.

“Furthermore, only 17 per cent of Australians aged 65–74 are even aware that pneumonia is among the top five leading causes of hospitalisation in Australia,” Prof Morgan said.

Professor Robert Booy, Infectious Diseases Paediatrician and Immunisation expert, University of Sydney, Sydney, said it is important for Australian seniors to be vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia, for preventing an episode of infection could add years of high quality life to their natural lives, and may also help to curb the spread of infection to their vulnerable grandchildren, for whom many seniors care.

“The ‘Breathe well, age well’ research found that for grandparents, enjoying time with their grandchildren (78 per cent) ranks alongside travel as the most popular activity,” said Prof Booy.

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“Given that grandchildren are at risk of passing the often fatal lung infection 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.

“With Australian children, we’re achieving 93 per cent pneumococcal vaccine uptake. However, among equally vulnerable seniors, we are failing to achieve even 50 per cent pneumococcal vaccine uptake,1 which could achieve up to five more years of high quality life for an individual,” Prof Booy said. Interestingly, the research found that the prospect of passing on pneumococcal pneumonia to grandchildren is also cause for concern for grandparents, with as many as 65 per cent of those yet to be vaccinated, citing this risk would prompt them to seek a pneumococcal vaccination.


“Pneumonia Awareness Week serves to reinforce the seriousness of pneumonia and the importance of protecting against the potentially life-threatening infection, because when you can’t breathe, nothing else matters, as many who have experienced pneumonia will tell you.”

For more information about Pneumonia Awareness Week, visit or call Lung Foundation Australia on 1800 654 301.