Older residents warned; decline in pneumonia vaccination rates a ‘wake-up call’

 A decline in pneumonia vaccination rates among older Australians has sparked an urgent plea for action by health professionals, who say the infection claims 2000 elderly lives each year.

While the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination rate for children has climbed to 93 per cent, it has fallen below 50 per cent for equally vulnerable seniors, according to an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia .

The figure should be a "wake up call" for Australians aged 65 and over and their doctors, says article co-author Dr Rob Menzies, from UNSW's Vaccine and Infection Research Lab.

GPs should take further steps to promote the one-off vaccine, with the preventable infection responsible for more than 8000 hospitalisations each year among those aged over 65, says Dr Menzies, who has been backed by Lung Foundation Australia.

The infection causes the small air sacs of the lungs to fill with pus and fluid, making breathing painful, causing coughing and limiting oxygen intake.

It can be caused by a virus, bacteria or fungi.

"There are grandparents out there who would be horrified if they thought their grandchildren were not up to date with the vaccines but they're not so worried about themselves," the doctor said.

"But as we age our immune systems wane, deteriorate, and infections that we've been resilient against for decades we slowly become vulnerable to. That's something you don't feel."

The sudden nature of the infection came as a surprise to healthy and fit 79-year-old Rosemary, from Perth, who was blacked out and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance in 2014, spending five days in ICU and nine weeks in hospital.

"I was perfectly fine. I had no warning signs...I felt well. Suddenly I was on all sorts of medicine. I had a cannula in my arm and they were taking blood and pumping different medications via drips into me," said Rosemary, who did not give her surname.

The former dancer said she wanted to speak out because people her age needed to understand the importance of that "little prick to the arm".

Anyone who smokes, has a chronic disease or condition compromising the immune system should also vaccinate.

In addition to renewed health campaigns, Dr Menzies has called on governments to improve reporting for vaccination rates, with data scarce and often out-dated.

"Governments (need) to put systems in place to get the immunisation register functioning and supporting the pneumococcal vaccination program and produce regular data to see how we're going," he said.