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Adult immunization: A public health priority


Scientific discoveries such as antibiotics and childhood vaccination as well as improved hygiene and sanitation have reduced the incidence of infectious diseases and given us the gift of a long life. India’s life expectancy has almost doubled from 1950 to 2021. However, an increased life expectancy is just a number, and what is more important is the kind of life we lead during the additional years that medical science has provided us. A longer life loses value if it is spent in illness, dependency, and suffering.

Therefore, it is important to adopt good habits and a lifestyle that can help control the negative impact of ageing and improve quality of life. One of the most important measures that we have is adult immunization. We know the positive impact of childhood vaccination – evidence shows that vaccination has averted 37 million childhood deaths in lower and middle-income countries between 2000 and 2019. Now is the time to use this tool to protect ageing adults against serious infectious diseases such as pneumonia, influenza, shingles, diphtheria and whooping cough.

Image: Canva

Adults aged 50 years and above are at a high risk of infections because of their declining immunity. The recovery from these infections also tends to be prolonged as age increases and causes a considerable physical, mental, and economic impact. Vaccination can help protect ageing adults from these complications. A recent global cost-benefit analysis study by ‘Office of Health Economics’ shows that adult immunization programmes with adult vaccinations, influenza, shingles, and pneumonia can return up to 19 times their initial investment if their health and social benefits are monetized.

There are no formal government programmes or guidelines for adult immunization in India, like we have for childhood immunization. Many ageing adults believe that vaccination is only for children and that it cannot benefit adults. A survey conducted by API-Ipsos last year, titled “India Adult Immunisation Survey – Awareness to Action”, found that only 16% of adults above the age of 50 years in the country had taken some adult vaccinations. This situation needs to change, and it is only possible when every ageing adult considers getting immunized and speaks to their doctor.



Certain medical societies have long-since espoused the value of adult immunization and have worked towards creating awareness and formal guidelines for adult immunization. vi The Association of Physicians of India (API), in partnership with 13 other healthcare societies, recently released the “Indian Consensus Guideline on Adult Immunization”. These guidelines share recommendations for vaccinations such as influenza, shingles, pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease, among others. These can now help doctors recommend the necessary vaccinations for ageing adults.

Ageing adults should be proactive and focus on improving the quality of their life, along with fostering healthy habits and regular exercise. They should consult their doctors about essential vaccine-preventable diseases. In a country where one in every five individuals will be above the age of 50 years by 2050, we must make the right choices when it comes to preventative health.

(By Dr Vivek Nangia, Principal Director & Head, Institute of Respiratory, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Max Hospital, New Delhi)



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