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Jane Seymour makes a case for adult vaccination

Actress Jane Seymour, photographed at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Monday, understands the importance of taking preventative steps to protect her health. She is speaking to Canadian adults about the importance of prevention and vaccinations

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Jane Seymour may only have portrayed a doctor on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, but the Hollywood actress also talks about medical issues off-screen. As someone who had pneumonia as an adult, she has now become a spokesperson for adult vaccinations, especially for people who are over 60 or who have been seriously sick in the past.

Why do you think it is that many adults just don't think about getting vaccinations?

I think most adults are concerned about their kids. They don't think about themselves and I think now, people are getting much more proactive about what they can avoid. And if through a vaccine you can avoid having pneumonia, meningitis or sepsis, that's a good thing because those are very serious diseases. Those will definitely hospitalize you, and if you don't get the right antibiotics in time, they could kill you … and especially if your body's already compromised, either your immune system or liver or kidneys, or if you've had serious bouts before with any kind of pneumonia.

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Only 16 per cent of Canadians knew about [this, according to a survey released Monday by Angus Reid]– that there are vaccines for adults that are important. And because I am older, that's why I'm talking about it. I'm talking about this from the perspective of a woman who's 60, about something that we do need to pay attention to. And I still have young children at home so I can't afford to be sick; I can't afford to play Russian roulette with my health.

How has pneumonia touched your life?

I had a form of pneumonia a number of years ago, and it was very, very frightening. I was very desperately ill at the time from it. … I was doing a film and the director had full-blown pneumonia. I had a lesser version, but it was pneumonia . … That was over 20 years ago. But I have had bouts of bronchial infections since, so I do know that when you have something as serious as that, earlier in your life, it's something that you know your immune system is at risk for.

And ever since then, I know that if I get a bacterial infection that it goes immediately to my chest. I get into major bronchitis and I have to be really aware of it. So I'm very susceptible to that, and so in my case, when I spoke to my doctor, he liked the idea of me having this vaccine.

If you look at me, I look like the most healthy person on the planet, but even I have to deal with certain issues. And I do my best to be healthy – I do aerobic exercise, I do light weights, I do Pilates, I eat organic food – I try to be as healthy as I can be. But I'm also being proactive about the future years to come. If I can cross off one thing I'm susceptible to with the vaccine – a one-time vaccine – I think that's a pretty good thing.

Why did you become a spokesperson for this, telling people about the fact that they need to be vaccinated as adults too as well?

I was asked if I would be willing to tell my story. The reason I did it is when I spoke to my doctor, he said it would be a very good thing. I spoke to actually several doctors of mine in America and I'm a doctor's daughter, so I would never get involved in anything that I didn't have a second opinion on. And I was really honestly quite surprised when my doctor told me the last visit that he wanted me to have a vaccine for shingles. I'd never even thought of that, but apparently that's routine now.

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This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Almost half of Canadians unaware of what adult vaccines are needed to protected themselves against pneumococcal disease

A bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae can cause pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. Respectively, these lead to lung inflammation, inflammation of the tissues and fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and blood poisoning.

Every year, pneumococcal disease kills about 1.6 million people worldwide.

And despite the seriousness of these diseases, a recent survey by Angus Reid Public Opinion has shown that almost half of Canadians don't know what adult vaccines they need to protect themselves against these diseases. The survey also showed:

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55 per cent of Canadians know that pneumonia can cause hospitalization and death, but 82 per cent aged 45-74 have not been vaccinated against it;

70 per cent aged 45-74 have known someone with pneumonia, but just over a quarter have been personally diagnosed;

About half aged 45-74 believe vaccines can protect them from getting sick;

About half believe it's important to stay up to date on their vaccinations;

46 per cent feel vaccines are as important as diet and exercise in maintaining their overall health;

62 per cent are unaware that children can carry bacteria that causes pneumococcal disease, but don't show any symptoms;

Only about a third know that diabetes and heart disease are risk factors of pneumococcal disease.

The survey was done online with 2,027 Canadians between the ages of 45 and 74 between June 6 and 13, 2011. The margin of error is +/- 2.18 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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