Australians ignorant on pneumococcal risk

3d set of orange lungs

Implementing an efficient reminder system to prompt Australians aged 65 and above to receive their free pneumococcal vaccination may be pivotal to improving the low 54% vaccination rates among this at-risk population, new research reveals.

Findings from the Pneumococcal Pneumonia Vaccination General Practice Nurse survey reveal while many general practice nurses acknowledge having some sort of pneumococcal vaccination practice reminder system in place (44%), the majority report either waiting for patients to present with a health concern (55%), or for their annual flu shot (84%), before recommending the National Immunisation Program funded vaccine.

Furthermore, while one in three Australian general practice nurses report proactively prompting their patients turning 65 to have the recommended pneumococcal vaccination, either by letter or phone, almost one-in-six report not having a system in place at all.

According to Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association President, Karen Booth, the survey findings highlight the need for Australian general practice nurses to put a system in place, to remind all patients turning 65, and any patients aged 70 years and above who are living with a chronic condition that puts them at heightened risk of contracting pneumonia, to get their pneumococcal vaccination or revaccination.

“The good news is, 75% of the time, general practice nurses are involved in initiating the discussion on pneumococcal vaccination, which acknowledges their strong level of responsibility as the main point of contact for patients,” Booth says.

“However, while 86% of practices report most pneumococcal pneumonia vaccinations provided are for patients aged 65 and above, some practices are performing better than others in terms of vaccinating those within that age-group, with 28% vaccinating more than three-quarters, 26% vaccinating half to three-quarters, and, 25% vaccinating less than half of those eligible,” says  Booth.

Patient reminder and recall systems have proven effective in increasing vaccination rates in other countries, including Canada, particularly so in primary care settings. Patients who received reminders about due or overdue vaccines were more likely to be immunised, or be up-to-date with vaccinations, according to national recommendations, compared to those who received no reminder.

The Pneumococcal Pneumonia Vaccination General Practice Nurse survey, conducted by bioCSL and distributed to APNA members and their broader subscribers, also highlighted the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia is not well understood among patients aged 65 and above, with general practice nurses reporting varying levels of patient infection risk awareness between practices.

Recent Lung Foundation Australia consumer research revealed Australian adults aged 65-to-74 years consider lifestyle factors including eating healthily (29%), exercising regularly (23%) and regular GP checks (21%), as most important to ageing well.

However, only 4% of this at-risk population considers receiving vaccinations recommended for their age and health condition as most important in ageing well.

“Given the gap in awareness and understanding surrounding the seriousness of pneumococcal pneumonia among the aged population and the importance of vaccination for those at-risk, the onus falls on primary healthcare professionals, including general practice nurses and GPs, to educate and encourage patients turning 65 and above, to protect against this very serious lung infection,” Booth says.

University of Sydney infectious diseases and immunisation expert, Professor Robert Booy, says pneumococcal pneumonia should not be underestimated, urging primary healthcare professionals to prioritise putting a reminder system in place in their practice.

“The prevention of illness is a cornerstone of effective primary healthcare. Immunisation plays a key role, not only by protecting those vaccinated, but also the general population, by preventing the spread of infection to others at-risk,” says Prof Booy.

“Latest figures indicate the number of Australians turning 65 and above will exceed three million,7 yet overwhelmingly, the greater majority of Australians in this age group don’t personally consider themselves, or don’t know whether they’re at-risk of pneumonia.

“This is incredibly worrying, given pneumonia-like illness (pneumonia and influenza) is among the top 15 contributing causes of death in Australia.

“Pneumonia is an enemy of the elderly – preventing it can give an elderly person many more years of a happy and productive life,” Prof Booy says.

The Pneumococcal Pneumonia Vaccination General Practice Nurse survey revealed only 26% of respondents estimated more than half of all patients aged 65 and above have been vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia nationally, with most (42%) estimating less than half of Australians aged 65 and above have been vaccinated, and the remaining 31% admitting they were unsure of the current national vaccination rates.

“While many respondents have been immunising Australians aged 65 and above against pneumococcal pneumonia, there’s certainly room for improvement,” Booth says.

“Immunisation rates for adults aged 65 and above have remained low over the last decade so improving this figure should be a main point of focus for primary health care professionals,” says Booth.

While all Australians aged 65 and above are at risk of pneumonia due to their age alone, 63% of those aged 70 years and over also have a chronic condition that further elevates their risk, allowing them to access a second dose of the pneumococcal vaccine, five years after their first.


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