Vaccination & Your Health

Being proactive about the prevention of disease starts with decreasing your risk and increasing your awareness

Healthy aging, according to Dr. Marla Shapiro, primarily means one thing to the patients she sees in her Toronto-based family practice: the ability to live independently.

“They value that over anything else,” she explains.

But staying healthy and independent requires being proactive about your own wellbeing, she advises, and the need for advocating for yourself only increases with age. 

“It’s all about the importance of what you can do for yourself,” she says. “What is your nutrition like? What supplements are you taking? How much do you exercise?”

Prevention of disease becomes increasingly important for older Canadians. “Let’s talk about prevention,” emphasizes Dr. Shapiro.

“Washing our hands is the single most important thing we can do to decrease the risk of an infectious disease,” she says. “The next most important thing is vaccinations.” Most parents understand how important immunization is for their kids, but when it comes to adults, they’re often not aware of what they can do to help prevent infectious diseases.”

The number of older adults who are not up-to-date with recommended vaccinations for diseases like pneumonia, shingles, and tetanus is in Dr. Shapiro’s opinion, shocking. Worse, she says, too many people aren’t aware of which vaccines are suitable for them or what protection is available.

In a 2016 survey, 88% of Canadian adults believed they were up-to-date on their vaccinations, but only 3% reported having received the correct number of vaccines for their age/risk group.

One common reason, she suggests, is because people don’t think they are at risk.

“Let’s talk about pneumonia,” she says. “Fifty is the magic decade when risks start to accumulate.”

Four in ten Canadian adults aged 65 and older report having one or more major chronic diseases – cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease or diabetes. As we age, we become more vulnerable to infection.

“Every year you age puts you at greater risk,” says Dr. Shapiro. Age alone is an increased risk for pneumonia but diabetes, asthma and heart disease increase the risk further.

“And,” she adds, pointedly, “let’s hope you’re not smoking.”

Pneumonia, she explains, “is an infectious airborne disease, whether it’s viral or bacterial. You catch it from somebody else. That’s why we try to sneeze into a sleeve. But it can also remain active on a surface.”

And it can be dangerous.

Pneumonia is among the top ten reasons for Emergency Departments (ED) visits in Canada, with almost 135,000 pneumonia-related ED visits in 2017-2018.  In fact, more than 6,000 Canadians die each year from influenza and pneumonia.

“In many cases,” says Dr. Shapiro, “these illnesses and deaths are preventable.”

 “You have to be your own advocate,” advises Dr. Shapiro. “Know when your last tetanus shot was. Make sure your vaccines are up-to-date.”

“Every single visit to the doctor is the visit to do a vaccine review,” she advises.

Dr. Shapiro suggests that there are several factors affecting the low rate of pneumococcal vaccine uptake among older Canadians, but she believes cost is not among them.

So why do so few seek protection?

Along with those who wrongly assume they’re not at risk, many others aren’t aware there are different infectious causes of pneumonia, or that pneumococcal vaccines (which help protect against certain strains of pneumococcal pneumonia) exist and can be accessed through your local pharmacy or public health clinic. Or they may think that pneumonia is just a bad cold.

And it’s important to remember, she emphasizes, that in helping protect themselves, people who opt for immunization against infectious diseases like pneumonia and flu, are also helping to protect the people closest to them.


Vaccines will not protect 100% of those who get immunized and do not treat infections or reduce the risk of complications such as hospitalization.

Prevnar® 13 is not indicated to reduce complications of pneumococcal pneumonia, such as hospitalization. The need for revaccination with a subsequent dose of Prevnar 13 has not been established. Prevnar 13 is a vaccine used for the prevention of diseases such as pneumonia, bacteraemic pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis caused by 13 types of the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. Serious warnings and precautions: Take special care with Prevnar 13 if you have any present or past medical problems after any dose of PREVNAR (7-valent) or Prevnar 13, if you are sick with a high fever or if you have any bleeding problems. Prevnar 13 will only protect against disease caused by the types of S. pneumoniae covered by the vaccine. Prevnar 13 will not protect 100% of people who receive the vaccine. Prevnar 13 should not be used in anyone who is allergic (hypersensitive) to the active substances, to any other ingredients, or to any other vaccine that contains diphtheria toxoid. The most common side effects (reported in at least 1 in 10 adults) are decreased appetite, headache, diarrhea, rash, new joint pain/aggravated joint pain, new muscle pain/aggravated muscle pain, chills, fatigue, any pain, tenderness, redness, swelling or hardness at the injection site, and/or limitation of arm movement. Other common side effects (reported in less than 1 in 10 adults) were vomiting and fever. This is not a complete list of side effects. For any unexpected effects while taking Prevnar 13, contact your doctor or pharmacist.