It seems the papers are filled these days with exciting news about breakthrough medical therapies — for cancer, for heart disease, and for many of the other serious and challenging diseases that affect the lives of Americans.
We are truly fortunate to be living at a time when medical science is so rapidly extending the therapeutic frontier. That good fortune may distract us from an important reality, though: there are many, many Americans who are suffering from conditions that can be prevented very easily. Or, put another way: there is a tremendous opportunity to save lives, reduce morbidity, and save money (at a time when health care costs are threatening other parts of the economy) through the simple act of vaccination.
An example that is especially important to us, as physicians who are working to improve the lives of Americans with asthma (a respiratory condition for which there is no cure, that affects some 25 million Americans and more than 185,000 Arkansans), is that of vaccination for Streptococcus pneumonia — the bacterium that is responsible for almost a million cases of — and more than 50,000 deaths from — pneumonia every year. Think about that — 125 people dying, on average, every day of the year: that’s about the equivalent of a Boeing 727 crashing daily.
This is so sad. But the good news is that pneumococcal pneumonia — and the invasive conditions (meningitis, septicemia) that may follow it — can be prevented. There are vaccines that are inexpensive, both safe and effective, and readily available. The discouraging news is that many Americans — in fact, the vast majority of Americans — who should be immunized against pneumococcal disease are not: the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that only 21 percent of high risk adults between the ages of 19 and 64 were immunized in 2015.
What can you do? Fortunately, it’s very simple. If you have a child between the ages of 2 and 5; if you are older than 65; or if you are an adult with a respiratory problem like asthma: talk to your healthcare provider about vaccination for pneumonia. It’s that easy. And that important!
Cary Sennett, MD, PhD is the President and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America