“Getting vaccinated is a civic duty, warn health experts,” The Independent has reported.
The news is based on a new report on adult immunisation in the UK produced by the International Longevity Centre.
The report's main message is that there needs to be greater focus on adult immunisation and it calls for increased adult vaccination against infectious diseases such as flu.
This, they argue, will help reduce the burden of infection on an ageing population (who are more vulnerable to infection), combat the growing menace of antibiotic resistance and save the NHS money.
This report provides useful information about adult immunisations in the UK as well as useful recommendations for increasing immunisation coverage, particularly among social care workers. However, it does not replace current guidelines for recommended vaccines. Currently recommended vaccines for adults in the UK are described below.
This report, titled ‘Immune response. Adult immunisation in the UK’ was written by the UK’s International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK). According its website, the ILC-UK is a registered charity and independent think tank dedicated to addressing issues of longevity, ageing and population change.
The report itself is based on new research recently published by SAATI (Supporting Active Ageing Through Immunisation). SAATI is a voluntary group of individuals from across Europe who are reported to share a commitment to tackle low public awareness of vaccine-preventable diseases.
In November 2013, SAATI published a report on adult vaccination across Europe (Adult vaccination: a key component of healthy ageing. Benefits of life-course immunisation in Europe (PDF, 4.3MB)) which focused on the following seven infectious diseases that can be prevented by vaccination:
The latest report by ILC-UK includes evidence from the SAATI report, but takes a UK perspective of the findings. It is also based on a review of evidence in the area of immunisation and immunisation experts are said to have also informed the findings through focus groups.
As noted on the ILC-UK website, the ILC-UK report was funded through an unrestricted educational grant from Pfizer International Operations, a drug company, which manufactures a wide range of products, including vaccines.
The report says that despite a common perception (with the exception of the flu jab) that immunisation is only for children, it is beneficial for people of all ages.
According to the World Health Organization, immunisation prevents between 2 and 3 million deaths a year across all age groups.
This report says vaccination remains an underused public health strategy for adults in the UK and across Europe. It highlights that the growth of antibiotic resistance, the challenges of gradual deterioration of the immune system with increasing age (called immunosenescence) and the effects of migration, mean greater focus should be placed on improving adult vaccination in the UK.
Another important factor to consider is herd immunity, where immunising a large proportion of the population leads to a reduction of an infection or disease among people that are not immunised.
The report also highlights that there is ‘strong evidence’ for the cost effectiveness of adult immunisation as a public health intervention. It says cost-effectiveness was found for four of the seven vaccine-preventable diseases focused on in the report (herpes zoster, influenza, invasive pneumococcal disease, pneumonia). It says, for the other three vaccines (pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus), a lack of studies meant that a cost-effectiveness analysis could not take place.
Currently in the UK, the following vaccines are recommended for adults and elderly people:
If travelling outside the UK and depending on the areas being visited, some additional travel vaccinations are recommended. Some countries require an international certificate of vaccination or prophylaxis (protection) before entering. The following travel vaccinations are currently offered free on the NHS:
This report sets out more than 30 recommendations. Among these, it calls for:
The report also sets out a number of proposed ideas to support these recommendations. These include:
The report certainly makes a compelling case. The combination of an ageing population, increased antibiotic resistance and migration from abroad could increase the burden of infectious diseases. So the old adage “Prevention is better than a cure” is more relevant than ever.
The challenge is how to encourage people to sign-up to an adult vaccination programme? Options range from appealing to people’s sense of civic duty to offering them money or some sort of tax break.
It is a difficult question to answer, but it is a question politicians and policy makers will have to deal with in the near future.