A panel of experts underscored the facts and dispelled common myths about pneumonia in an event titled “Championing the Fight to Stop Pneumonia — Together” led by the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV) in line with World Pneumonia Day on Nov. 12.
Fact: Children and the elderly need to get vaccinated against pneumonia.
“The immune system of children, particularly newborns and infants, is still weak. This is the reason why they need to be immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases such as pneumonia. On the other hand, the immune system of the elderly is weak due to senescence [natural process of growing old],” said PFV secretary Dr. Tina Santos.
She added that children often are unable to practice proper hygiene and therefore are vulnerable to respiratory infections like pneumonia which are transmitted through airborne droplets.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante, a PFV board member, noted that individuals aged 60 years and older should routinely get the pneumococcal vaccine and flu vaccine because they are at higher risk of developing severe pneumonia.
“We saw this during the COVID-19 pandemic wherein 80% of the fatalities were patients 60 years and older,” he said.
Myth: Pneumonia should not be taken seriously. It’s just a cough.
“Not taking pneumonia seriously is a big mistake because pneumonia can kill,” said Iloilo Rep. Janette L. Garin, who is the Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Health.
Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In the Philippines, pneumonia is the third leading cause of death across all ages and is the most common cause of death among children under five years of age.
“Eating a nutritious diet, avoiding crowded places, and getting vaccinated are among the effective ways of preventing pneumonia,” Ms. Garin added.
Myth: Getting the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine is enough to protect you against pneumonia.
“COVID-19 vaccines protect against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but not against bacterial pneumonia, especially streptococcal pneumonia,” said Dr. Solante.
He cited data showing that some people who have recovered from COVID-19 experience long-term effects from their infection, known as long COVID.
“One of these long-term effects is recurrent respiratory infections. This is why some countries have recommended that people with long COVID get the pneumococcal and flu vaccine,” he said.
Myth: Only the elderly are at risk for pneumonia.
While the elderly and children two years old and younger are the most at risk, pneumonia can affect anyone.
As mentioned earlier, pneumonia is the third leading cause of death across all ages in the Philippines.
Myth: You will get pneumonia if your hair gets wet in the rain or if your sweat dries on your back.
“Getting your hair wet in the rain or your sweat drying on your back will not cause pneumonia. Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, and the infection can be transmitted from person to person. This is why getting the pneumococcal vaccine is recommended particularly for at-risk populations such as young children and the elderly. Good nutrition, preferably breastfeeding, and proper hygiene can also help prevent pneumonia in children,” Dr. Santos said.
Fact: The country has laws and policies that support disease awareness and prevention, as well as programs for vulnerable populations such as senior citizens.
“We have more than enough laws that aim to protect our vulnerable populations including senior citizens. But it is important that laws are implemented in a timely manner,” said Ms. Garin.
She cited the Senior Citizens Act which mandates the protection of elderly Filipinos through vaccination against pneumonia and other vaccine-preventable infectious diseases.
“However, there is always a problem with implementation. Laws are useless without proper implementation. Laws are only effective when their health impact is felt by our people,” she said.
Myth: The pneumococcal vaccine provides lifetime protection against pneumonia.
“The pneumococcal vaccine does not provide lifetime protection against pneumonia. It is given as a series of vaccine doses in both children and the elderly according to the recommended immunization schedule,” Dr. Solante said.
Fact: Pneumococcal vaccination is available through multiple channels.
“Pneumococcal vaccination is available in both government facilities such as health centers and private hospitals and clinics. The government provides pneumococcal vaccination through the National Immunization Program,” said Ms. Garin.
In the same forum, Dr. Kim Patrick Tejano, National Immunization Program manager at the Department of Health, stressed the importance of vaccination.
He said that vaccination protects the people against pneumonia and reduces its severity when they do get sick. When children are able to attend their classes, and when adults can be more productive because they have protection against pneumonia, it can really be said that vaccination is both empowering and liberating.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are at the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.