It’s a new year, and here at the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), we’re resolving to make 2020 the healthiest year yet for NHCOA’s constituents and staff. Hopefully by now you have been vaccinated for influenza and the immunization will keep you healthy over the winter months. Equally important is another vaccine currently available for your protection — the pneumococcal vaccine – which prevents a serious illness, pneumococcal disease or pneumonia.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that pneumonia is just a bad cold or the flu or that it can be prevented with the flu vaccine. In fact, pneumonia is caused by a variety of different types of bacteria and can have life-threatening consequences. Fortunately, vaccines have been developed specifically for combating many strains of pneumonia and are available to older adults and those at risk due to medical complications.
Pneumonia is a serious illness, especially among seniors. Every year in the United States, approximately one million people get pneumonia, and 5-7 percent of those patients die from the disease. Adults 65 years of age and older are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with pneumonia than adults younger than 50 years of age. The National Hispanic Council on Aging is particularly concerned because, according to the Office of Minority Health in 2015, Hispanic adults aged 65 and older were 40 percent less likely to have ever received the pneumonia vaccine when compared to non-Hispanic whites. We need to get the word out and raise those rates.
Here’s what you need to know about pneumonia vaccines:
- They are safe and effective and offer real protection against this serious disease and its complications. Years of research, study and experience have proven that pneumonia vaccines work — and they can make a real difference in maintaining your health.
- New CDC guidelines recommend that you consult with your healthcare provider about what pneumonia protections you need. Two separate vaccines are needed for complete immunization and, due to a recent change in CDC guidelines, a conversation with your provider is necessary to ensure compliance. You can do this at your next medical visit or call your provider’s office or clinic to discuss your options.
- Medicare Part B covers 100% of the cost of pneumococcal vaccination. If you are covered by private insurance or another program, chances are they will cover vaccination, too. Ask your plan about its benefits and ask your doctor for the vaccine.
As an educated consumer, being proactive about your health by asking the right questions is the best way to get the most value out of the coverage you have, as well as the best way to stay strong and healthy. Do something important for yourself: call or make an appointment to see your doctor to talk about protection from pneumonia. Then roll up your sleeve. You will be glad you did.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.