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Vaccines in the Aging Population

Vaccines in the Aging Population

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An interview with Reda Guiha, Regional President, International Developed Markets Pfizer Vaccines, conducted by Alina Shrourou, BSc

Why are we discussing vaccines in the aging population?

The World Health Organisation marked World Pneumonia Day on November 12th to promote interventions to protect against, prevent and treat pneumonia. The condition is a worldwide killer affecting people of all ages, however the ‘aging population’ is at an increased risk.

Streptococcus pneumoniae. Credit: Maxx-Studio/Shutterstock.com

A recent analysis titled PneuVUE® 65 years and over report revealed that only 18% of people aged 65 and over report having received a pneumonia vaccination. An unacceptable statistic considering pneumonia causes over 100,000 deaths per year in the 65 years and over age group in Europe.

What do you mean by the term aging population?

The term refers to the increasing proportion and number of older persons, typically aged 60 years and over. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years old will double from about 11% to 22%.

Improvements in public health, nutrition and medicine mean people are living longer than ever before. Every country is experiencing growth of this kind and, according to the United Nations, aging will become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century – with implications for nearly all sectors of society. Europe and Japan in particular will be significantly affected by this huge demographic shift, which will pose challenges for healthcare systems.

What challenges does the aging population pose on healthcare as we know it?

Demand for healthcare will increase across primary and secondary care, with long-term support placing massive pressure on healthcare systems. Research has shown that older adults who adopt healthy behaviors and use preventive services – like vaccinations – are more likely to remain healthy, live independently, and incur fewer health-related costs.

Despite this, healthcare systems are geared towards diagnosis and treatment, with European governments spending an average of just 2.8% on healthcare prevention. The inevitability of challenges associated with an aging population means that healthcare communities should shift the balance from treating infectious diseases, such as pneumonia and influenza, to preventing them.

Why are there low numbers of older people reporting vaccination?

Even in healthcare systems where vaccines are readily available to older people, vaccination rates remain suboptimal. We need to understand why people from 65-year-olds running companies, to 75-year-olds juggling the care of grandchildren, or 85-year-olds living in care homes, are falling through the system when it comes to vaccines.

The latest PneuVUE® analysis confirms a need for improved vaccination awareness in this population and reveals that only 35% of adults aged 65 and over know that a pneumonia vaccination exists. Low awareness of pneumonia, its severity and preventative options are key reasons for why a ‘vaccination gap’ in this population has emerged.

Is it important for this gap to be closed? If so, what is being done to encourage people to get vaccines?

The World Health Organization in Europe recognizes vaccination as one of the health strategies with the greatest potential to achieve health gains for older people. As we work together to manage the challenges associated with the aging demographic of our world’s population, closing the ‘vaccination gap’ in older people should be a priority for healthcare systems.

At Pfizer, we have supported a number of initiatives of international NGOs, to raise awareness of the importance of healthy aging and the vital role that vaccination can play. Wherever possible, public dialogue around vaccination should be encouraged, and if you know an elderly person who does not receive vaccination against infectious diseases, you can suggest they visit their doctor to discuss whether this option is right for them. Only through healthcare communities working together, can we start to close the ‘vaccination gap’.

Are there other benefits associated with closing the vaccination gap?

New strategies are urgently required to combat threats such the growing antimicrobial resistance crisis. It is a growing opinion that better vaccine coverage in older people is part of the comprehensive approach needed to tackle antimicrobial resistance. Vaccines can help address this global concern by preventing infections as well as reducing the transmission and circulation of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

How large is the threat of antimicrobial resistant in older people?

Antimicrobial resistance is an urgent and growing global health threat. With antibiotics prescribed more frequently to older adults than to younger patients, the aging population will drive even greater antibiotic consumption worldwide.

Furthermore, long-term care facilities that house older adults can become ‘reservoirs of resistance’ due to high levels of medication use in such facilities. Antibiotic-resistant infections are already resulting in over 50,000 deaths annually in Europe and the associated economic burden is estimated to be €1.5 billion, per year. If the issue of antimicrobial resistance is not rapidly addressed, estimates indicate that by 2050 more people will die from antibiotic-resistant infections than cancer.

How can the healthcare industry help address these challenges?

Industry partners, healthcare providers and governments need to collaborate to secure additional investment and encourage innovation to address critical challenges such as the vaccination gap and antimicrobial resistance.

At Pfizer, we have recently collaborated with the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy and the University of Dundee to launch the Massive Open Online Course on antimicrobial stewardship. The course helps healthcare professionals understand and address the global threat of antimicrobial resistance, focusing on how to responsibly use high-quality antibiotics safely in everyday practice. So far, over 5,000 healthcare professionals have completed the course.

Pfizer’s current and pipeline vaccines offer potential to tip the balance for healthcare systems from treatment to prevention. Through industry collaborations and global initiatives, Pfizer is not only helping to keep older people healthier for longer, but also improving the wellbeing of the population. Vaccination strategies are key to help in the fight against challenges such as the antimicrobial resistance crisis.

Where can readers find more information?

For more information please have a look at our website: https://www.pfizer.com/science/vaccines

And for the PneuVUE® 65 years and over report: https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/pneuvuer-new-view-pneumonia-among-older-adults

About Reda Guiha

Reda Guiha is the Regional President of the Vaccines Division, International Developed Markets for Pfizer Inc., one of the world’s premier innovative biopharmaceutical companies. Reda has held senior international sales and marketing roles across a number of major disease areas in different countries and regions.

In 2000, Reda joined Pharmacia’s French affiliate as Oncology Business Unit Director and managed the Specialty Therapeutics Business Unit in France following Pharmacia’s merger with Pfizer in 2003. In 2006, he was appointed Senior Sales Director for the Cardiology Franchise and, in 2007, became Vice President for the Oncology, Ophthalmology and Endocrinology Division.

Reda then managed the French Oncology Business Unit until September 2012 when he progressed to Business Unit Head of Specialty Care, France; a division responsible for vaccines, inflammation and hospital specialty products. After this national tenure, Reda was appointed Regional President of the European Vaccine Business in 2014 and then Regional President of the Vaccines Division in 2016 when his role was expanded to include Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Prior to joining Pharmacia and Pfizer, Reda worked for Rhone-Poulenc Rorer (Aventis) as Senior International Marketing Director for Oncology and later as Vice President of Oncology based in France and the United States. He originally trained as a pharmacist before joining the pharmaceutical industry as a medical sales representative in Egypt, the United Kingdom and Italy.

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