CHENNAI: Come April, nurses and doctors at primary health centres will fan out to administer their annual vaccination shots. Only this time, the beneficiaries won’t be children but the elderly.
In an effort to tackle the high prevalence of pneumonia among the elderly, the state government will soon roll out a programme to vaccinate destitute elderly in old age homes aided by the state and central governments.
The social welfare department has identified 4,133 elderly people who will be vaccinated in the drive. The state planning commission recently gave the go-ahead for the project, which is estimated to cost Rs1.65 crore.
Pneumonia affects people who have low immunity like children, patients in intensive-care units, those having chronic conditions like diabetes, people suffering from cancer and the elderly.
“While immunisation coverage is high for children, few realise or recognise the need to vaccinate the elderly,” said geriatric care specialist Dr V S Natarajan. The immune system, he said, starts to decline around 50 years of age. “After this, people will need booster shots. One shot will give them lifelong immunity,” said the doctor.
Pneumonia, Dr Natarajan said, is a common precipitating factor for various ailments like stroke and heart attack. “People cooped up in a place are more susceptible as this infection is air-borne, which is why it’s important to vaccinate those staying in old age homes,” said Dr Natarajan, who was consulted for the programme.
People working with the elderly said although the prevalence of pneumonia is high in old age homes, caregivers are reluctant to vaccinate them owing to the cost. Each vaccine shot costs Rs 3,800. “We’ve repeatedly appealed to the state government to roll out a programme for this group as many of them can’t afford the cost of the vaccine,” said Sivakumar V, Tamil Nadu head of NGO HelpAge India.
The social welfare department has identified more than 50 old age homes, three multi-care centres for older widows, four day care centres and two respite care homes across the state. “We’ve identified the nearest government healthcare facility close to these homes. A staff nurse and doctor will be assigned to visit these homes,” said the official.