Prioritizing Routine Adult Vaccinations to Promote Healthy AgeingSeptember 15, 20212 min read
Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions of modern times and key to maintaining well-being in older age. Every year, thousands of people have serious complications from vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs), often resulting in hospitalization or even deathi. Older people are at a higher risk of infections such as influenza, pneumonia, and shingles due to a decline in immune system function. This decline is manifested in high rates of VPDs amongst older people, with one in five hospitalizations directly related to influenza and pneumoniaii.
Despite evidence supporting the benefits of adult vaccination, vaccine uptake rates remain suboptimal among older persons and those with chronic comorbidities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rates have further continued to fall behind. A recent article entitled ‘Adults need to take seriously vaccines for other diseases besides COVID-19 and the flu’ highlights the barriers to routine adult vaccination in the United States and the alarming drop in coverage during the pandemic. In the article, public health experts highlight factors that contribute to poor uptake, such as limited accessibility, vaccine hesitancy, lack of awareness and understanding about vaccines and how they prevent diseases.
In the recent Seventy-fourth Regional Committee Session of the World Health Organization South-East Asia, Regional Director Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh described the escalating vulnerability of older people to VPDs as a result of disruption of essential immunization services and surveillance for VPDs during the pandemic. The dangerous disruption in routine immunization for VPDs constitutes a serious and growing public health concern. There is an urgent need to repair the damage caused by the pandemic and to protect the health and well-being of older people through upscaling routine immunization against VPDs.
At a time when the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing 2021-2030 (the Decade) calls for a whole-of-society response to improve the lives of older people and re-think ageing, adult immunization must be at the top of global agendas. Aligned with the Decade and the WHO Immunization Agenda 2030, programs and policies should focus on the principles of prevention, access, and equity in the context of adult vaccination to support healthy ageing. It is imperative that global leaders in public health continue to refine strategies to improve vaccine accessibility, ensure equitable vaccine distribution, reduce vaccine hesitancy, and engage global stakeholders to develop integrated, evidence-informed strategies and policies on adult vaccination.
To learn more about the importance of life-course vaccination to support healthy ageing, please contact Dr. Enrique Vega García an IFA Expert and United Chief for the Healthy Life Course, PAHO. To contribute to the crucial dialogue on adult vaccination through the key pillars of prevention, equity, and access, please contact Ms. Anusheh Khan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
i CDC. (2020). 3 Important Reasons for Adults to get Vaccinated. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/adults/downloads/fs-three-reasons.pdf
ii Schaffner, W., Chen, W. H., Hopkins, R. H., & Neuzil, K. (2018). Effective immunization of older adults against seasonal influenza. The American journal of medicine, 131(8), 865-873.
Dr. Enrique Vega García Unit Chief for the Healthy Life Course
Dr. Vega is a specialist in geriatric medicine who has served as the Regional Advisor in Aging and Health at PAHO/WHO since January 2006.