Getting a flu shot? You might need another vaccine as well.

Sharon Lawson
Sharon Lawson

As fall approaches, chances are that you will be offered a flu shot. In fact, about 40 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 get one. But if you or a loved one is over the age of 65 or live with a chronic health condition, a flu shot isn’t the only vaccination to get this fall.

Pneumococcal disease is the leading cause of serious illness in both children and adults worldwide. Caused by bacteria and spread through close contact, coughs and sneezes, it can lead to pneumonia, infection of the blood, middle-ear infection, sinus infection or even bacterial meningitis. People over 65 and those living with a chronic disease that impacts the immune system – such as asthma, diabetes lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease or cancer – are particularly susceptible to serious complications.

Pneumococcal disease infects nearly 1 million Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the latest CDC surveillance data shows that North Carolina is seeing a spike in cases of the disease, especially as it pertains to pneumococcal meningitis.

Even though, like the flu shot, pneumococcal vaccines are usually available at both your doctor’s office and the pharmacy, vaccination rates tend to be lower. Some estimates, for example, show that as many as one-third of adults ages 18-64 have a chronic medical condition that increases their risk for contracting pneumococcal disease, yet according to the CDC, just 20 percent of all high-risk adults under age 64 are immunized against it.

Studies show there is a reduction in the number of deaths among those who receive the pneumococcal vaccination versus those who don’t. Additionally, for individuals who receive the vaccination but also come down with the disease, the severity of symptoms far less than they are for those who do not get the vaccine.

As program director for Meals on Wheels of Wake County, I am doing my part to encourage the more than 1,500 elderly, sick and disabled North Carolinians we serve to get vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.

While Meals on Wheels has a national reputation for delivering nourishment to seniors in communities across the country, but Meals on Wheels is proud to do more than what’s in our name. We are part of the communities we serve, and we care about the health and well-being of the people we see on a regular basis. As potentially the only visitors some seniors and disabled people receive each week, our volunteers provide critical support for older North Carolinians’ health and well-being. All too often, our volunteers report that one of our participants is struggling with an infection or, worse, pneumonia.

If you’re 65 and older or live with a chronic condition, the pneumococcal vaccine is your best shot to protect against the world’s leading cause of serious illness. The CDC, in partnership with others, makes it easy to find out where you can get vaccinated in your community at www.vaccines.gov.

Sharon Lawson is the program director for Meals on Wheels of Wake County. She lives in Durham.