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Don't hurt the ability of elderly to stay healthy

A nurse preparing the measles, mumps and rubella

A nurse preparing the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at the Rockland County Health Department in Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York on April 5, 2019. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Johannes Eisele

Despite recommendations about the benefits of vaccinations, people have gotten sick from the measles, a serious but preventable disease. Clearly, some people are not getting the message. That is why it is so odd that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering eliminating a vaccine recommendation for pneumococcal disease.

Each year, more than 1  million Americans contract pneumonia, and of that, about 18,000 people 65 and older die from the disease and its complications. With numbers like that, the push should be to find more vaccines to fight the disease, not to drop a recommendation that protects against it.

Our immune systems age along with our bodies, so anything we can do to boost the ability to fight disease should be encouraged. Many older adults live in or spend time in group settings. Being protected against easily transmittable diseases in these situations is critical. We often hear of kids getting vaccinated as they head to college, but not as much about older adults needing vaccinations.

Under New York health law, the Long-Term Care Resident and Employee Immunization Act requires that long-term care facilities request all residents and employees to be immunized against influenza virus and, as appropriate, pneumococcal disease, consistent with guidelines of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

As the committee reviews the vaccine schedule of diseases, it is a significant concern that any change in the recommendations might result in an adverse impact on vaccination programs focused on those living in long-term care communities. The older generation of Americans is living longer. But we want those long lives to be healthier. Vaccines do that.

We know the science around vaccines and the diseases they fight is sound. We know that more Americans want to be vaccinated. We know that the more disease we can prevent, the better for all of us — including those who are unable to be vaccinated. Now is not the time to eliminate any vaccine, but to do everything we can to stop any American from contracting a disease that is preventable.

The CDC should continue to recommend all vaccinations for older adults and leave in place the pneumococcal vaccination standard. Doing otherwise could put the lives of so many vital, older adults at risk.

Ami J. Schnauber is the vice president of advocacy and public policy at the nonprofit organization LeadingAge New York.