If You’re 65 or Older, This Is the Vaccine You Never Knew You Needed

Patti LaBelle is on a mission to educate baby boomers about the dangers of pneumococcal pneumonia—and what can be done to prevent it.

singerCourtesy Michael Simon StartraksEntertainer Patti LaBelle is on a mission and that’s to educate baby boomers about the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia, a potentially serious bacterial lung disease (here are symptoms of pneumonia you shouldn’t ignore).

To boost awareness, LaBelle, AKA the Godmother of Soul, best known for countless hits including New Attitude, If You Only Knew, and Lady Marmalade, has partnered with Pfizer Inc. to help launch All About Your Boom, a public awareness campaign that inspires adults 65 and older—of whom there are more than 46.2 million in the U.S.—to adopt a new attitude about the risks of pneumococcal pneumonia and the importance of staying up-to-date on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-recommended vaccinations.

And, in a video related to the campaign, LaBelle brought together singers 65 and older to sing one of her classic songs and then the crew built in a twist—they began singing the way they’d sound with pneumococcal pneumonia—in a soundtrack replete with coughing and scratchy throats.

“The video gets people aware of what pneumococcal pneumonia sounds like,” says LaBelle, who says she was inspired to participate in the campaign after a friend had pneumococcal pneumonia and couldn’t breathe well and was exhausted all the time. “Anyone listening to you knows there’s something wrong.”

Turns out, even healthy adults are at risk for developing pneumococcal pneumonia, with symptoms including high fever, sweating, shaking chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and fatigue, says Freda Lewis Hall, MD, Pfizer’s chief medical officer. (Find out the vaccine-myths you can safely ignore.)

“They’ll say ‘I’m healthy, I’m fine, I don’t have to worry about this kind of stuff’ but this is extremely common and can actually be quite dangerous,” Dr. Hall says. “It’s the most common type of bacterial pneumonia and can live in the upper respiratory tract so it gets spread by coughing and touching.”

In addition, adults who are 65 and older are at a 13 times greater risk of being hospitalized with pneumococcal pneumonia compared to those who are younger than 50, Dr. Hall adds.

“The symptoms can last for a couple of weeks and throw you off your routine,” Dr. Hall says. “This can also be life-threatening.”

Get vaccinated

Due to this increased risk, the CDC recommends those 65-years old and older receive a pneumococcal vaccination—a once-in-a-lifetime shot—to help prevent pneumococcal disease.

“To stay healthy, adults 65 and older need to take essential steps like eating right, getting proper sleep, and exercising. It’s also important to not lose sight of staying up-to- date on CDC-recommended adult vaccinations,” says Luis Jodar, PhD, chief medical and scientific affairs officer at Pfizer. “Pfizer Vaccines is committed to helping Boomers prevent a serious vaccine-preventable disease—pneumococcal pneumonia—that can impact their life.”

As for LaBelle, she takes every precaution to say healthy.

“I didn’t know that vaccines were available for people 65 and older,” she says. “Now that I know, I tell everyone to go to your doctor and let them tell you which vaccinations you need. I wasn’t a doctor-goer before I was diagnosed with diabetes but now I know better.”

LaBelle takes other steps to stay healthy, too.

“When I travel I take my pots and pans on the road to make sure I won’t take a chance with room service food,” she says. (Her hotel suites often have kitchens.) “We find a farmer’s market and we get the kale and fish I need. I cook with the band and we have a great dinner.”

Developing healthy habits is key for LaBelle who continues to tour regularly.

“On stage, I do a 90 minute to two hour show dancing all the time,” she says. “I walk my dog, I get in the low end of my pool and walk. I do those things and I look in the mirror and say ‘girlfriend you look good for 73.’ I’m so energetic.” (Be sure to also avoid these habits that might be prematurely aging you.)

In the end, LaBelle wants other boomers to get ‘A New Attitude’ about this potentially serious health problem.

“My video shows how people are coughing and not recognizing how bad they sound,” she says. “Being involved in this campaign has given me a new attitude about the steps I can take to maintain my health at this age, and I want to encourage others to do the same,” LaBelle says. “I want people to be more aware of pneumococcal pneumonia. I’m here to do my thing!”

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