Think you’re too old to be vaccinated? You’re not!

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Dr Thomas Breuer, Chief Medical Officer, GSK Vaccines, gives an insight about adult vaccination, which can help cut costs and keep individuals, families and workforces healthier for longer

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Dr Thomas Breuer

The common misconception that vaccination is important for children but not so relevant once you hit adulthood is a long way from the facts. You are never too old to get vaccinated.

There are many diseases which vaccination can help prevent in adulthood, including flu, hepatitis and whooping cough, pneumonia. However if you haven’t had a shot or jab recently, you’re probably in good company; adult vaccination rates remain low. A new multi-country survey* conducted by Ipsos MORI and sponsored by GSK found that 68 per cent of adults are not up-to-date with the vaccines recommended for them.1 This gap in knowledge on adult vaccination exists despite the World Health Organization (WHO) citing immunisation as one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions in public health.2

Working as a physician, I have seen for myself the struggle that patients have recalling their vaccination history and how healthcare providers often don’t feel well enough informed to discuss vaccination schedules and benefits for adults. In India, 43 per cent of adults surveyed consider themselves to be not very or not at all knowledgeable about adult vaccines with 38 per cent believing vaccines are for children and/or babies only and 34 per cent believe vaccines are required only for travel purposes.3,4

Vaccine-preventable diseases have a significant impact on global public health and quality of life.

From an economic point of view, there are also significant costs, from healthcare expenses and hospital stays to loss of productivity from days off work. In addition to the direct benefits of disease prevention there are some other notable indirect medical benefits. For me, the decision to get vaccinated is also about the ‘herd effect’, the protection vaccination may offer to those around me and to those who are unable to receive selected vaccines due to being immunocompromised.

You may be wondering about the science behind adult vaccination. The bad news is that after early adulthood the body’s immune system starts to age and becomes less responsive. The good news is that vaccination, can work with the body’s natural defences to enhance our immune system’s response, helping us to remain healthy and active as we age.

In the face of India’s changing demographics, adult vaccination can help cut costs and keep individuals, families and workforces healthier for longer. So with all these benefits how can we increase coverage?

I believe we need to normalise the decision to vaccinate in adulthood, based on clear and meaningful communication around the benefits it can offer. Just as we have done with childhood vaccination, exercise and healthy eating we need to make sure the decision to get a vaccination as an adult is almost instinctive.

As part of this we need to make vaccination the easy choice and think of innovative ways to make vaccination more easily available to adults, such as vaccination at pharmacies or workplaces, and other places that are frequently visited such as the gym or community centres.

And perhaps one of the most important ways to increase coverage will be to equip our healthcare providers on the frontline of vaccination with the information they need to be confident enough to initiate a conversation on adult vaccination and answer questions from their patients.

Given the potential adult vaccination has to keep us healthier for longer isn’t it worth taking the decision to reprioritise vaccination and give ourselves and our families a shot for a healthier future?

Results from the Vaccinate for Life survey

Findings from the Vaccinate for Life survey of over 6,002 adults across Brazil, India, the US, Germany and Italy found that:

  • 15 per cent of adults believe that vaccinations are only recommended for children and/or babies with 21 percent thinking they are only needed for travel purposes.5
  • Just over 3 in 10 adults report not having had any of the vaccines potentially relevant to them within the past five years.6
  • 53 per cent of adults surveyed agree that although achieving a healthy lifestyle is important, they are more likely to prioritise other health services over vaccination.7
  • In India, 2002 adults were surveyed across six cities (Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai). While 42 per cent of adults ranked staying in good physical health as the primary priority to them in life, staying up-to-date with vaccinations is typically less important compared with other ways of staying healthy such as eating healthily, keeping active and not smoking, particularly among males.8,9
  • The majority of adults surveyed in India believe that although vaccines are an effective way to prevent serious illness, 26 per cent believe vaccinations are not required if one is fit and healthy.10

*Vaccinate for Life General Public Survey of 6,002 adults aged 18 years and over, across five countries (Brazil, Germany, India* Italy and the US)

– Data for India is based on six cities only (Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad)

References:
1. Vaccinate for Life General Public survey. Exploration based on Q9. Which of the following statements best describes how up-to- date you consider yourself to be on vaccinations. Total base All respondents n=6002
2. World Health Organization (WHO). World Immunization Week 2017.http://www.who.int/campaigns/immunization-week/2017/event/en/. (Last accessed October 2017).
3. Vaccinate for Life General Public India Survey. Exploration based on Q4a. How knowledgeable do you consider yourself to be on adult vaccinations, also referred to as immunisations? Are you… Very knowledgeable. Quite knowledgeable. Not very knowledgeable. Not at all knowledgeable. Total base All respondents (n=2002)
4. Vaccinate for Life General Public India Survey. Exploration based on Q4. Looking at the following statements about vaccinations, also referred to as immunisations, please select whether you think each one is true or false. Vaccinations or immunisations are only recommended to children and/or babies. For adults aged 18 years or over, immunisations are only needed for travel purposes. Total base All respondents (n=2002).
5. Vaccinate for Life General Public Survey. Exploration based on Q4. Looking at the following statements about vaccinations, also referred to as immunisations, please select whether you think each one is true or false. Vaccinations or immunisations are only recommended to children and/or babies. For adults aged 18 years or over, immunisations are only needed for travel purposes. Total base All respondents (n=6002).
6. Vaccinate for Life General Public survey. Exploration based on Q8. Which of the following vaccines available to adults aged 18+ have you personally had in the last 5 years, if any? Totally base All respondents (n=6002).
7. Vaccinate for Life General Public survey. Exploration based on Q5. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements on the importance of vaccinating in adult life. Totally base All respondents (n=6002).
8. Vaccinate for Life General Public India Survey. Exploration based on Q1. From the following list, please select the three goals which are most important to you? Staying in good physical health. Total base All respondents (n=2002).
9. Vaccinate for Life General Public India Survey. Exploration based on Q2. Thinking about the different things you may try to do in order to keep fit and healthy, how important is each of the following? Total base All respondents (n=2002).
10. Vaccinate for Life General Public India Survey. Exploration based on Q4. Looking at the following statements about vaccinations, also referred to as immunisations, please select whether you think each one is true or false. Total base All respondents (n=2002).

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