The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially declared a global pandemic 3 months after the outbreak of a new disease affecting the respiratory system was first reported in Wuhan, China. The SARS-CoV-2, better known as the novel coronavirus 2019 or COVID-19, has caused mass hysteria in many countries after affecting almost 135,000 people worldwide and taking 4973 lives in the short period since its detection.
Most importantly, older adults as well as those who are immunocompromised (i.e those with pre-existing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and especially lung disease) have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. They have a higher risk of developing severe complications – complications which may then lead to hospitalisation and even death.
Although a viable vaccine for COVID-19 is still in the process of being tested and may not be ready for public use in the next few months, it is important to note that some other respiratory diseases which also severely affect those with chronic or pre-existing lung disease, are vaccine-preventable.
Those with existing lung conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma are more likely to experience severe complications from even the flu such as swelling of the airways and may require hospitalisation and extensive treatment. They may even go on to develop pneumonia, which is highly dangerous for those whose lung defences are already weak. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in Singapore, accounting for 20.6% of all deaths last year (just behind cancer).
The WHO estimates that a whopping 290,000 to 650,000 lives are lost due to the flu every year – many of the people who succumbed to complications from the flu were those with pre-existing conditions such as lung disease.
Why suffer unnecessarily from complications from vaccine-preventable diseases when you can simply get vaccinated and minimise your chances of contracting them? Many illnesses that affect the respiratory system are vaccine preventable. Moreover, receiving these vaccines is safe and any side effects will be mild for most people and go away after a short period and without any intervention.
So which vaccines can those who suffering from lung conditions take to protect themselves?
The Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) has noted that the most common condition to be found amongst children admitted to the hospital with the flu is asthma. Asthmatics are among those at highest risk if they develop the flu because an infection can cause them to have asthma attacks and symptoms of asthma may also present more severely. Asthmatics’ airways are already usually swollen and sensitive and this inflammation may be exacerbated when they develop the flu. This often leads them to develop pneumonia and other respiratory diseases and also causes severe complications further down the line.
Asthmatics, therefore, are recommended to receive a flu vaccine every flu season. These vaccines are often updated to stay up-to-date with the latest strains of flu that are circulating and so it is important that they go for a flu jab every flu season. Since the vaccine provides immunity only after two weeks, it is advisable that asthmatics get their flu jab as soon as it is available in clinics.
Clari Health offers the quadrivalent (4-strain) flu vaccine that is updated every flu season to protect against the latest circulating flu strains. Asthmatics and those with chronic medical conditions, as well as pregnant women and those above 65 years old, may use Medisave to cover the cost of their flu vaccines with us.
Moreover, those with no pre-existing medical conditions are recommended to receive the flu vaccine as well, especially during times of pandemic or during peak flu season. This will prevent the onset of often unpleasant and painful symptoms and days of being cooped up at home and feeling unwell.
Since those with COPD, asthma and even collapsed lungs are more at risk of developing pneumonia after being infected with the flu and are also more prone to developing severe complications from pneumonia, it is beneficial for them to receive the pneumococcal vaccine or vaccines. All children in Singapore receive the pneumococcal vaccine, PCV13, as babies. However, those with lung disease, the elderly, smokers and those with other chronic conditions are encouraged to receive boosters of the vaccine when they’re older.
The leading cause of death in Singapore, pneumonia disproportionately affects children and the elderly and leads to death in severe cases. The global mortality rate for pneumonia has not changed significantly since the 1990s, which shows that pneumonia remains a serious and pressing issue in healthcare. Research has also suggested that pneumococcal vaccines could save the lives of almost 400,000 children annually.
There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines: the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and the 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23). You can visit Clari Health to find out which vaccine is suited for you and how it will benefit you if you are currently suffering from a chronic lung condition or are above 65 years old.
Clari Health offers both of these and those who have chronic lung disease, other chronic conditions, those who are 65 years and above and those who are immunocompromised may use Medisave to pay for these vaccines.
The tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, is one of the routine childhood vaccines given not only in Singapore, but across the world. Those with pre-existing lung conditions, in particular, may be at risk of severe complications and even death if they develop pertussis, which is better known as whooping cough.
Whooping cough is a respiratory tract infection that is highly contagious and which may severely affect infants and cause their breathing to slow or even stop, in more severe cases. The condition also affects teenagers and adults and may result in excessive and painful coughing which may then leave them with cracked or bruised ribs, broken blood vessels in the eyes and skin and abdominal hernias.
In those with lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis or COPD, whooping cough may present more severely and cause a worsening of the pre-existing lung conditions due to the taxing of the lungs and airways. Moreover, pregnant women who do not have pre-existing lung conditions are advised to receive a whooping cough vaccine for every pregnancy so that they may pass on antibodies to their unborn children to protect them in the period before they can be vaccinated. Whooping cough may be deadly to infants and may cause lasting brain damage if they do develop it, so it is important for expecting mothers to receive their vaccines in their third trimester.
Pregnant women may use Medisave to pay for their Tdap vaccine at Clari Health for every pregnancy.
Those with COPD are at risk of developing shingles, which is a disease caused when the varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, is reactivated. COPD patients are 68% more likely to develop shingles when compared to a healthy person and COPD patients taking steroids as treatment are at higher risk since steroids suppress the immune system.
Shingles may cause an intense burning sensation wherever the rash has spread and for some adults, this pain may last long after they have recovered from shingles – a condition called, postherpetic neuralgia, which is the most common complication developed from shingles. Moreover, those who are older are at higher risk of developing shingles as well as more severe complications from the disease.
For those with COPD, prevention is most definitely better than cure as developing shingles may add on to the burden that their body is already shouldering and may wreak havoc on those whose immune systems are being suppressed by steroid treatment.
Singapore has two licensed vaccines: Zostavax and Shingles. However, due to limited global supply, Zostavax is currently the only available vaccine in Clari Health. Those with COPD as well as those above the age of 50 are recommended to get one shot of the shingles vaccine to protect themselves against developing shingles and the complications that come with it.
In Clari Health, the influenza, pneumococcal, tdap and zoster vaccines are readily available. When you make an appointment with us by calling 8754 4101, booking online or e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, you will be given up-to-date advice as well as the latest CDC and WHO-based recommendations on vaccines that may be beneficial for you. If you have lung disease, make a trip to Clari Health now and reduce the risk of developing complications from common vaccine preventable disease.