A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee will meet Wednesday to decide whether or not to keep in place a recommendation for older adults to get the pneumococcal vaccine that protects against certain types of pneumonia.
The 15-member CDC Vaccine Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices could keep the recommendation, scrap it or leave it entirely up to a physician and patient without a specific recommendation to follow.
The review addresses only those older adults with a healthy immune system, according to the CDC.
The Georgia State Medical Association, one of the largest African American state medical associations in the U.S., has joined with the National Hispanic Council on Aging and others to call on the advisory committee to maintain the vaccine guidelines.
“It’s a bad idea,” said Kimberly Williams, executive director of the GSMA. “We say keep it as a recommendation for seniors age 65 and older. If you remove it, people are not going to get vaccinated, and we risk what could be an epidemic. Not this year. Maybe next year or the year after that. You will see more and more seniors get sick.”
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that can range from mild to severe.
It can also be deadly.
Common signs of pneumonia include cough, fever and difficulty breathing, according to the CDC.
At one time, the vaccine recommendation was necessary because certain kinds of pneumonia among aging adults were considered a public health problem.
However, so many children received the vaccine over the years that some health officials believe it’s resulted in an indirect benefit to older people and there is less need for the vaccine.
Pneumonia is especially dangerous in older adults because they often don’t seek medical treatment until it’s too late and many already have underlying chronic health conditions such as COPD, heart disease or diabetes that may weaken the immune system, according to the National Council for Aging Care. As people age, there is also a greater inability to cough effectively. Smoking also raises the risk.
There is also a general weakness in the body that may let a younger person rebound quickly.
People can also be exposed in institutional settings such as hospitals and nursing facilities.
The committee’s recommendation for PCV13 use among adults with compromised immune systems is not being reevaluated. It also wouldn’t cover the PPSV23 recommendation for older adults.
“The assumption that it is going to be taken away is probably premature,” said CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund.
Dr. Linda Walden, a family physician in Cairo and the chairwoman of the National Medical Association’s Region III, said she will still recommend to her patients that they get vaccinated.
“Pneumonia is one of the most common infectious diseases people get,” said Walden. ”So many people die from illnesses that could easily be prevented. I’m about primary prevention, not secondary prevention. I want to keep it from happening in the first place. Whether or not the CDC recommends this, I’m going to make sure my patients get it. If it’s not recommended, there are concerns whether insurance will pay for the vaccine, and if they don’t, this is going to add more burden for patients to make sure their health care needs are met.”
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