Elderly Filipino week highlights the importance of immunization to keep the elderly healthy, active
Dr. Joel M. Santiaguel tackles the importance of immunization for the elderly against pneumonia, influenza, and COVID-19.
“Vaccines are not just for children. Even older individuals should be given vaccines against influenza, COVID-19, and pneumonia,” said Dr. Joel Santiaguel, a pulmonologist, in a virtual forum on elderly immunization in line with Elderly Filipino Week.
October 1-7 marks the celebration of Elderly Filipino Week, which emphasizes building awareness on the different issues concerning elderly Filipinos. Signed by former President Fidel Ramos in September 1994 under Proclamation No. 470, this mandates that the Executive Department, led by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), conduct social welfare programs to promote the well-being of the elderly.
Current data (2021) from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) shows that Filipinos aged 60 years old and above comprise 12.2% or 12,336,355 of the country’s total population.
Bakuna Para Kay Lolo at Lola
“The Department of Health (DOH) mandated that not only children are required to be vaccinated but also older individuals. So, there’s a vaccination program from the very young to the very old,” declared Dr. Santiaguel.
He also noted that vaccines are required as one grows up – from birth, middle age, and then old age, adding that it is vital to keep track of vaccination records and check with the local government units (LGU) to avail such services.
Vaccines may offer immunity against vaccine-preventable diseases. According to Dr. Santiaguel, the elderly group is at high risk of being infected with pneumonia and flu due to their weaker immune system and pre-existing conditions. Fortunately, one may experience only mild symptoms or even avoid getting infected after vaccination for pneumonia and influenza for flu which the DOH recommends for individuals aged 60 and above.
Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs caused by either fungi, viruses, or bacteria, is considered the 5th leading cause of death in the Philippines. In most cases, pneumonia is caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus Pneumonia and is common among young children and senior citizens. Data from DOH shows that in 2017, more than 57,210 patients died of pneumonia, said Dr. Santiaguel.
“As of this time, not all people have been given the pneumonia vaccine, so coverage nationwide would probably be at least 20-30%,” he said, which is why getting inoculated is essential.
The elderly group is also vulnerable to getting infected with influenza, a contagious respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. Inhaling airborne droplets coughed by an infected person or touching your face after contacting a surface contaminated with the virus may cause you to be infected with influenza. In addition, the influenza virus continues to mutate and change over time, so it is recommended to be vaccinated every year, ideally before the start of the rainy season between February to June, Dr. Santiaguel said.
COVID-19 Vaccination for the Elderly
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a hurdle when it comes to elderly vaccination. Due to a weaker immune system and comorbidities, the elderly group is at high risk of getting infected with the virus.
This reflects the need for the elderly group to be inoculated quickly and safely, as they are considered the second priority group in COVID-19 vaccination after the healthcare workers.
Dr. Santiaguel explained during the virtual discussion that elderly individuals could get influenza, pneumonia, and COVID-19 vaccines at the proper intervals. “Influenza and pneumonia vaccines are usually given together one on each arm, and then the COVID19 vaccine can follow after a few days. You may also have your first COVID-19 shot and take the influenza and pneumonia vaccine after a few days. Then after a month, you may have your second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
“Being vaccinated has been important now more than ever. We must educate and encourage our lolos and lolas to get inoculated as it helps boost our immunity to fight infectious, serious diseases,” Dr. Santiaguel added.
Aside from boosting your immunity through vaccination, practicing proper hygiene such as washing hands7, avoiding smoking, covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, disinfecting your household and nearby surroundings, and wearing face masks also help prevent the spread of diseases or you being infected.
Dr. Santiaguel held lay lectures about elderly immunization at the “MahALAGA si Lolo and Lola Ngayong Pandemya” virtual event organized by the Department of Health Central Visayas Center for Health Development and “Usapang Bakuna para kay Lolo at Lola” organized by the Cavite Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office and the Federation of Senior Citizens Association of the Philippines (CALABARZON Chapter).
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