Only 8.6% of Belgians above the age of 65 years, or over 45 with a high-risk condition like asthma, heart disease or diabetes, were vaccinated last year against pneumococcal infection, one of the commonest forms of pneumonia, according to the latest figures from the Belgian health institute Sciensano.
With some 430 persons dying from pneumonia in 2015, vaccine coverage is too low, the pharmaceutical firm MSD said on Tuesday on the occasion of World Pneumonia Day, urging the population to be vaccinated.
Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection of the lungs that can be caused by bacteria, viruses or microscopic fungi. In one third of all cases it is caused by the pneumococcus.
In Belgium, pneumococcus was responsible in 2015 for about 5,800 hospitalisations and 430 deaths among adults over the age of 50 years, according to a study by the Centre fédéral d’expertise des soins de santé (KCE – Federal Centre of Health Care Expertise) and the University of Antwerp, published in 2016.
“Incidence per 100,000 inhabitants increases quickly with age : for Invasive Pneumococcal Disease (IPD) it moves from 15 in the 50-64 age group to 80 among 80-year-olds,” the study noted, adding that in the case of pneumonia, the rate jumps from 72 to 402 for the same age groups.
“The IPD death rate is high (about 12%), especially among the aged,” the KCE noted at the time.
“It’s regrettable because the vaccine would enable seniors to be protected optimally,” Cathy Matheï, professor of General Medicine at the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven) is quoted as saying in a press release by MSD laboratory, a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co.
According to Professor Matheï, the pneumococcal vaccine deserves as much attention as the vaccine against influenza, which is administered to “40% of persons above the age of 65” and even “60% of high-risk persons over 65”.
“Compared to the rest of Western Europe, Belgium is a bad student in terms of vaccination against pneumococcus,” she noted. “It’s the poor relation of prevention among adults. The vaccine, which can be administered at the same time as the one against flu, is however, not reimbursed. In countries where patients can apply for reimbursement, the vaccination rate is much higher.”
While the vaccine does not provide 100% protection, it considerably reduces the risk of infection.
Treatment of pneumococcal infections and their ill effects in people above the age of 50 costs Belgium’s authorities an estimated 33 million euros a year.