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Elderly need pneumonia vaccine

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It is easy, inexpensive and can save lives, but a vaccine that prevents pneumonia is rarely given to the elderly, according to a report in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers report that an outbreak of drug-resistant pneumonia at an Oklahoma nursing home that killed three people could have been prevented if residents had been vaccinated.Pneumonia developed in 11 of the 84 residents and seven were found to be infected with a strain of the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae that is resistant to several antibiotics. Three of the 11 died from the illness.

A research team, led by Dr. J. Pekka Nuorti of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that only three residents of the nursing home had been vaccinated against the bacteria.

"Although an efficacious and cost-effective vaccine is available to protect against pneumococcal disease, it has not been widely used," said Nuorti. He said the vaccine should be offered to all 1.4 million elderly Americans in nursing homes and other institutions. The cost is covered by Medicare.