Global Coalition on Aging Calls for Adult Immunization to Top the Global Policy Agenda as a Core Preventive Health Strategy

New Report Shows Effectiveness of Immunization Through All Life Stages

NEW YORK CITY (July 11, 2013) – The Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) today called for attention from policymakers and the global health community to adopt a life-course approach to immunization.  In its new report, “Life-Course Immunization: A Driver of Healthy Aging,” GCOA highlights the absence of adult immunization in healthy aging strategies and the need for a greater awareness of the role of vaccines as a preventive measure as the global population ages.

The report was authored by a panel of experts across the medical fields of infectious disease and epidemiology, as well as global health policy and advocacy.  Authors include Javier Garau, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Barcelona and chair of SAATI (Supporting Active Ageing Through Immunisation); Michael W. Hodin, PhD, Executive Director of the Global Coalition on Aging; and Alexandre Kalache, MD, PhD, President of the International Longevity Centre – Brazil.

The global over-60 population will more than double between 2000 and 2050, reaching 2 billion, while the under-14 population contracts.  With this population structure shift comes the need for actionable aging strategies to address the ensuing health, social and economic challenges that accompany longevity.  A general assumption is that the aging process is marked by disability and dependence, and in fact, as one ages, the immune system gradually deteriorates, thus increasing the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases.  However, medical innovations that prevent disease and therefore lead to healthier and more active aging – and cost savings – do exist.  These tools unfortunately have been underutilized.

Although immunization has become a staple in the development and health care of today’s children, systematic immunization for adults has not.  GCOA urges policymakers to learn from the success of the GAVI Alliance, which in one decade reached 257 million children with new and underused vaccines, thus preventing 5 million future deaths.  This success is commendable, and yet older adults are at the greatest risk for diseases which are preventable by vaccine.

“Longevity is a gift of 20th-century progress in health, sanitation and medical innovation, and it is essential in the 21st century that we take action and adapt to a population structure the world has never before seen,” said Hodin.  “Immunization has been a proven preventive strategy in children.  Now, with the aging shift, it has become a social and economic imperative for public health strategies to include a life-course approach to immunization.  It is also common sense that we would apply the valuable lessons from childhood immunization campaigns to today’s aging population.”

A life-course approach to immunization stresses vaccination through all stages of life, including the adult years, as a cost-effective strategy to promote healthy aging.  According to the GCOA report, one study “found that influenza immunization and pneumococcal immunization rank among the best preventive health services, as highly as smoking cessation and cancer screening.”  Further, “immunization throughout the life-course enables adults to age with reduced risk to disease, thereby enabling healthier, more active, and more productive aging.” This approach requires increased awareness and action to place adult vaccination at the top of the global public health agenda.  Currently, adult vaccination rates persist at far below target levels.

“As the population ages, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that longer life is marked by maintaining independence and preventing disability and illness,” said Garau.  “Many diseases which impact older adults are preventable, and a life-course approach to immunization is a powerful tool for enabling individuals and strengthening societies to be healthier and more productive.”

According to “Life-Course Immunization: A Driver of Healthy Aging,” there are six key policy areas upon which improvement can be made to further goals of improving quality of life while one ages.

  1. Increase awareness regarding the health benefits of life-course immunization among healthcare professionals, employers, employee groups, and unions.
  2. Establish or enhance existing surveillance systems to determine and monitor the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases in adults.
  3. Create alignment on adult vaccination schedules.
  4. Integrate adult immunizations into Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and create an adult immunization registry.
  5. Integrate adult vaccination in public and private payer access programs.
  6. Embed adult vaccination in core preventive services for adults.

The report was supported through a sponsorship from Pfizer Inc.

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