The U.S. is experiencing a crisis. Despite the fact that measles as a disease was declared eradicated in America in the year 2000, our nation is facing unprecedented outbreaks. As of June 20, 1,077 confirmed cases have been reported. However, there is another potential killer in our midst: pneumococcal disease. Of course, to the anti-vax movement, the pneumococcal vaccine is suspect, too.
Why is the pneumococcal vaccine important?
Pneumococcal disease is caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. It can lead to a number of different illnesses and symptoms. Although this disease is considerably less contagious than measles (which can survive in the air for up to two hours after an infected person has left), pneumococcal can be deadly. It can manifest in four forms.
Common types of deadly pneumococcal infection:
- Pneumococcal pneumonia: This lung infection is the most common serious form of the pneumococcal disease. It comes with debilitating symptoms such as fever and chills, cough, rapid breathing/difficulty breathing, and chest pain. Older adults may experience confusion and low alertness.
- Pneumococcal meningitis: Meningitis is a life-threatening infection of the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms for pneumococcal meningitis include a stiff neck, fever, headache, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and confusion.
- Pneumococcal bacteremia: Pneumococcal bacteremia is a blood infection with symptoms that include fever, chills, and low alertness.
- Sepsis: Sepsis is a blood infection. Chemicals released in the bloodstream, which are supposed to fight an infection, end up triggering inflammation throughout the body. This can easily lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. Symptoms of sepsis include confusion or disorientation, shortness of breath, high heart rate, fever, shivering, or feeling very cold, extreme pain or discomfort and clammy or sweaty skin.
Loosening Vaccine Requirements Puts Seniors At Risk
In June, the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention considered making it easier for certain Americans to avoid the pneumococcal vaccine. Specifically, the CDC considered relaxing pneumococcal vaccine requirements among seniors age 65 and older, according to the Washington Informer. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to pneumococcal-related illnesses such as pneumonia and meningitis.
The Washington Informer also reports that fully 80% of seniors face an increased risk from pneumococcal diseases because of chronic health problems. An additional 40% of seniors have not received the pneumococcal vaccine. As a result, any reduction in vaccination rates would put the nation’s fast growing senior population at an even greater risk.
As politicians, parents, and public health experts fight to improve measles vaccination rates, there are many other illnesses that can be stopped by vaccines. The pneumococcal vaccine is just one such intervention. Although measles poses the biggest threat to infants and young children right now, pneumococcal is more common (and deadly) in adults; according to the CDC, nearly one million people contract the disease annually, leading to about 50,000 deaths in the United States every year — the overwhelming majority of which are adults. The CDC’s recent proposal to remove vaccine requirements for pneumococcal disease in Americans 65 and older could put our nations’ seniors at risk.
Washington Informer contributor Robert Hay Jr., the executive vice president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, believes that even discussing a loosening of vaccine requirements sends the wrong message at the wrong time. When it comes to the decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate, “that decision should be based on strong, definitive vaccination requirements from the CDC, which serve as important guideposts for both doctors and patients.”