Respiratory Health and Vaccines

Dr Collette Bromhead is a Senior Lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand where she teaches microbiology and immunity and conducts research into the detection, surveillance and prevention of infectious diseases.

Collette is both an experienced clinical scientist and part of the rare disease community. She brings her wealth of personal and professional experience to the topic of respiratory disease and vaccination. 

Got Snot? Let’s chat about respiratory infections.

Respiratory diseases are just bad news for people living with Pompe disease.  The fewer infections you have, the better your quality of life. 

Coughing, snot, and phlegm are a consequence of respiratory infections. If Pompe disease stops you from shifting those nasties, bacteria can grow and party in the gloop. That is not an all-nighter you want to be at.  

Antibiotic-resistant infections are difficult and sometimes impossible to treat and are an increasing problem for us all. Antimicrobial resistance happens when germs become able to defeat the drugs we use to kill them.  

For all these reasons, prevention is far better than trying to treat an infection after it has kicked off. So, let’s talk about a few vaccines which can help prevent respiratory disease for you, your family and your loved ones. 


Why vaccination is important for you, your family and loved ones.  

Vaccines help the immune system to recognise diseases and fight them. Like any medication, vaccines are assessed and proven to be safe before they are approved for use. 

Community Immunity 

By vaccinating yourself, your children, partners and encouraging your wider circle of contacts to also get vaccinated, you can help protect everyone with “community immunity”.   

Community immunity is an important mechanism that means if enough people are immune, then transmission of the disease can be reduced or eliminated.

This is particularly so for pneumococcal disease, Influenza and COVID-19.

Community protection is important to stop illness in to those babies who are too young to be immunised, or those who cannot have the vaccine (allergies, immunocompromised). The mechanism of community protection means vaccinating children will reduce the number of infections in all ages in the community. Community immunity plays an important role in disease control.  

Created with

Collette says: I’m not sure about you, but I hate surprises. This image shows the difference between being immune versus being “surprised” by infections.

If your immune system has previous experience with a particular virus or bacteria, it will remember it clearly, and act quickly to protect you from illness.

But if the infection is a big brand new surprise to your body, you will probably get horribly sick.  Vaccination is a safe way to reduce the number of nasty surprises in your life.  

Pneumococcal Vaccine Information 

Newmuh what? 

The bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus (nyoo·muh·ko·kuhs) can infect anyone. It is the cause of a suprising array of common and nasty illnesses including: 

– Otitis media (ear infection) 

– Rhinosinusitis (infection of the hollow spaces in the skull and the face bones around your nose) 

– Pneumonia (a lung infection) 

– Sepsis (blood poisoning) 

– Meningitis (an infection of the lining around the brain) 

– Invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) 

Some people are at higher risk of serious illness, like those with an impaired or weak cough, so its recommended they speak to their doctor about pneumococcal vaccination.  

Preventing pneumococcal disease is a moving target: there are more than 100 distinct “flavours” of this bacteria. You can eliminate one, but another will rise up and may be more or less horrid than the bug you got rid of.  

Happily there are highly effective vaccines available that are “multivalent” which means they protect you against 7, 13 or more flavours of Pneumococcal bacteria! What’s not to love? 


I have questions!

This is news to me, why haven’t I heard about this before?

I hear you! Everybody rants about COVID-19 and flu and I will get onto those next. Actually, the pneumococcal vaccine is not new, we have had this effective vaccine for over 20 years.


So, if I have Pompe disease should I ask my doctor for this vaccine?

Speak with your doctor to see if this vaccine is recommended for you. 


Are there any risks for me?

The pneumococcal vaccine has a long and excellent safety record. The contents of the vaccine are synthetic and no live bacteria are used in its manufacture.  

All vaccines are medicines, which come with both risks and benefits and must be prescribed and administered by a clinician. You should always discuss your individual case with your trusted healthcare provider prior to undergoing vaccination. 


Would you have this vaccine Collette? Would you give it to your children?

Oh yes indeed!! I was so excited about the benefits that I paid to have this one as an adult (here in NZ). And yes my son had this as part of his infant vaccinations. The pneumococcal vaccine is the unsung hero of young parents everywhere, as anyone who has sat up through the nights with a screaming infant with an ear infection will know…



Influenza Vaccine Information 


Hang on, I thought COVID killed the flu? 

Nope, sorry. Flu still kills people. Influenza viruses will still cause future pandemics. 

Influenza virus infections are common and hospitalise over 4000 people a year. In 2019 more than 800 people died of flu in Australia. 

Flu viruses attack our lungs, nose and throat. People with an impaired or weak cough are at risk of complications from Influenza, such as pneumonia. You can protect yourself from catching flu viruses through hand hygiene, masks and social distancing. Only your internal immune defenses, usually acquired through vaccination, can help reduce the misery of influenza disease.  

Flu viruses are clever and new formulations of vaccine are needed every year to keep up with their fickle genetic changes.  Scientists work hard to predict which types of flu viruses will be the ones-to-beat each winter. This is why you will be offered a shiny new Influenza immunisation (Flu jab) each year, just before winter. Because every year your immune cell-soldiers need annual training to defend you against changing flu viruses.  People of all ages will benefit from a yearly flu-jab.   


What is the Influenza vaccination simply?

Usually its a 4-valent subunit vaccine. Annual influenza immunisation is recommended to provide protection from the predominant circulating seasonal influenza strains. The vaccine should be given before the influenza season in Australia. Universal influenza vaccines are being developed for future use.

How effective is it?

Influenza immunisation will protect around 6–7 in 10 healthy children under 3 years of age, around 6–7 in 10 healthy children under 16 years of age, and 4–6 in 10 healthy adults from influenza. The influenza vaccines have a modest effect, around up to 60%, in preventing confirmed influenza in those aged 65 years and over living in the community, and can reduce the number of older people needing to be hospitalised with influenza-related pneumonia and complications. Influenza vaccine has also been shown to reduce the risk of influenza-related pneumonia in older people living in long-term care facilities who develop complications related to influenza.


Are there any risks for me? Would you have it?

The flu vaccine is very safe and millions of people have it every year, including myself and my family. It does not contain any live viruses.  However, you should tell your vaccinator if you have any allergies, for example to eggs, as some vaccines are made in eggs. If you’re ill with a high temperature, it’s best to wait until you’re better before having the flu vaccine. 



COVID-19 Vaccine Information 

Unless you have been living in an internet-free paradise with zero contact with the outside world, you are probably VERY TIRED of hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic. Which, upsettingly,  is definitely still very much happening. 


Here’s the low-down 

  • It came from a Bat, probably because of what humans are doing to its habitat (ie. dont blame the bat) 
  • There have been 650M cases of COVID-19 recorded so far and some 6.63M deaths worldwide (as at December 2022). The pandemic continues and you continue to be at risk. Listen to scientists. 
  • COVID is a respiratory illness, passed by coughing, sneezing, speaking, singing.  You can prevent yourself catching it by wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene and good social distancing. It is best practice to test regularly with at-home COVID-tests and stay home if you are sick. 
  • Since we discovered that there are more variants of the COVID-19 genetic code than fish in the sea, it became clear that Science was never going to find a cure for this or the common cold (with which covid shares allegiance). These fickle viruses change their genes like underwear so its no wonder our poor immune systems can’t keep up with the variability. It’s just “SUPRISE!” every time we encounter a new dose of COVID.  


Luckily for the human race, a number of scientists had been working for decades on a new type of “mRNA-based” vaccine. This provided the breakthrough that became the first generation of COVID vaccines. While none of the current vaccines have been able to completely stop you catching COVID-19, they do reduce severe disease and decrease the likelihood of you being admitted to hospital or developing long-COVID.  

New COVID vaccines against the Omicron variants are already in use. The latest data shows those boosters offer better protection than previous shots. It is a certainty that vaccine technology will continue to improve. 

So what do we do to stay well? 

Simple, speak to your doctor about recommended COVID vaccines as they become available. Get boosted regularly. Give your immune system every chance of protecting you from the inside!  


Hang on, are these vaccines safe? 

Vaccination against COVID-19 is the most effective way to reduce deaths and severe illness from infection. The protective benefits of vaccination far outweigh the potential risks. Over 64 million doses of vaccine have been given to Australians.  Side effects mostly reflect what was seen in the significant clinical trials that had to occur before the vaccines (medicines) could be licensed for use by the TGA in Australia. Injection-site pain, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain are the most common reactions.


What about myocarditis and pericarditis?

These are rare heart conditions where different parts become inflamed. The benefits of vaccination still outweigh the risk of developing heart muscle inflammation. If you experience chest pain, irregular heartbeats (palpitations, fainting or shortness of breath, within 1-5 days of vaccination – seek medical attention immediately. Having said that, according to TGA data, <1% of all these rare cases are sick enough to need hospitalisation. 


What is this mRNA vaccine stuff, it seems very new and untested

The RNA concept was being worked on in the 1980s, so it is not what I would call new. 

mRNA is like an email to your immune system, with the instructions on how to fight the virus.  


Global collaboration among scientists and governments in vaccine development was at levels never seen before. This sped up the development and the launch of large clinical trials around the world. Lots of people volunteered for trials because of the worldwide interest and concern about COVID.  

Some clinical trials could be done at the same time instead of one after the other. This meant they could quickly determine whether the vaccine was effective in a short amount of time – under normal circumstances this could take many months or even years. 

Large manufacturing plants have been developed, so vaccines can be produced faster and on a larger scale than was previously possible. 

The vaccines have been developed very quickly but without taking any shortcuts in the necessary processes or compromising safety. 


Would you have any of these COVID vaccines Collette?

Yes! I was totally excited and queued for several hours to get all three of my COVID vaccinations. It was brilliant to be receiving a scientific breakthrough in my arm. Also, I work with trainee healthcare providers, and consider it important for me to protect them against infection by getting vaccinated.  My whole family is fully vaccinated and we will continue to hungrily seek out all future approved covid vaccines. 

~Supported by Sanofi’s With Vaccines Community Grants

IMPORTANT: This information is intended to provide general information in regard to the matter covered. It is provided as a public service by the Australian Pompe Association. Medicine is constantly changing and human error and changes in practice make it impossible to certify the accuracy of such complex material. Confirmation of this information from your doctor or medical practitioner is required.