By Bronte Hearn, edited for online By Jacob Miley

The Lung Foundation of Australia has warned the older population has a heightened risk of contracting influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia, urging them to be vaccination savvy.

The diseases combined are the third greatest cause of catastrophic disability in Australia.

Public health physician  for the Immunisation Coalition, spokesman  Professor Paul Van Buynder, said the issue stemmed from misinformation.

“I think older people are generally not aware of the impacts these diseases will have on their independence and their mobility, he said.

Dr Van Buynder said there were a variety of reasons why older people were not being vaccinated.

“We have really good vaccines against both influenza and pneumonia but sadly while most elderly people do get vaccinated against the flu, they don’t understand, or they’re not offered or they’re not taking up the opportunity to have vaccine against pneumococcal disease as well.”

He said a healthy lifestyle was not enough to ward off illnesses.

“Even though they’re living a healthy lifestyle they’re eating well they’re making sure they keeping are doing some exercise, if they don’t protect themselves against these diseases they may lose the independence that they value so much.”

A recent survey found a quarter of retired people thought pneumococcal pneumonia was just a bad cold.

Doctors have warned pneumonia can keep the elderly bed ridden for months and is potentially fatal.

Queensland AMA Council of General Practice chair, Dr Richard Kidd, said GPs could be doing more to promote the vaccines.

“Certainly we could do more in general practice, and so again public awareness exercise to remind GPs to check that their patients have been vaccinated is important,” he said.

However, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Tim Logan warned there could be a shortage of vaccinations available.

“It’s possible that they may not have had the immunisation to give,” he said.

Dr Kidd said there were concerns for the general public.

The public are at risk of infection if the elderly are contracting pneumonia and passing it on.

“Pneumococcal pneumonia is something that can be transmitted from person to person, it’s an infectious disease,” Dr Kidd said.

“Just as older people have become very good about getting the whooping cough vaccine   they may also seriously think about making sure they’ve got the pneumonia vaccine to protect babies in the families they are a part of.”

Older People Speak Out spokesperson Anna Meyer said older people needed to look out for their health as they were far more susceptible to diseases.

People aged over 65, those with a chronic illness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and pregnant women are encouraged to visit their GP to receive a free pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination.