Pneumonia is by far the leading killer of seniors who contract either seasonal or pandemic H1N1 influenza, but far too many of the elderly are not immunized against it, according to a report issued Thursday by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health. Pneumovax, a vaccine against the most common bacterial cause of pneumonia, has the potential to halt at least a third of such deaths, according to officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations, but it is widely underused. Thursday's report highlights those deficiencies and shows that California is one of the worst offenders.
Nationally, 33.1% of adults over the age of 65 have not received the vaccine, according to the report. Even in Oregon, the state with the highest vaccination rate, 26.8% were unprotected. In California, 39% were not immunized. The only places with a worst record were the District of Columbia, where 45.6% had not been vaccinated, and Illinois, where 40.4% had not.
Among the reasons cited for the low vaccination rates were lack of access to the vaccines by seniors who were not institutionalized, limited insurance coverage, misinformation on the Internet about the supposed dangers of vaccines, and inadequate research and development on new vaccines.
The groups recommended, among other suggestions, that insurance companies and Medicare be required to offer full coverage for vaccines and that the government should adopt a Vaccines for Adults program similar to that for children, which makes vaccines available to low-income groups.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II