Pneumonia jab now available for over 65s in UK

People over 65 in the UK are to be offered a routine jab to help protect against diseases, including pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia. Two in 1,000 over-65s are admitted to hospital with pneumococcal pneumonia each year and the infection can cause serious diseases.

Older people are more at risk of contracting this sort of illness. The pneumococcal immunisation programme for older people was announced in 2003, with over-80s offered the jab in 2003/04 and over-75s in 2004/05. The vaccine has been successfully used in the UK for more than 10 years.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson when announcing the pneumococcal vaccine would be offered to all over-65s in England said that pneumococcal infection can cause serious disease and although at-risk groups such as those with heart conditions, chronic lung disease and chronic liver disease are already successfully vaccinated, older people also need to be protected. Patients can be vaccinated at any time during the year and the jab will be available from April.

The Department of Health said most people would only need to have the vaccine once, but a second dose may be needed for people with certain medical conditions such as kidney problems.

Dr Nigel Higson, a GP in Hove and chairman of the Primary Care Virology Group, says pneumococcal infection was thought to be a significant cause of death and serious illness as the bacterium was opportunistic, tending to take hold when a person was already ill.

Higson says the policy is good, as is the vaccine which offers long-term immunity, with minimal side effects,and can prevent the complications of other infections.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended, in principle, the introduction of pneumococcal vaccine for children but says further consideration of the number and timing of doses is required, the price at which the vaccine could be secured and guarantees of the supply of the vaccine.

The Department of Health is seeking further advice from independent experts on introducing the vaccine for children but many parents have expressed concern about the number of jabs babies already receive in a short space of time.

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