Time To Immunise The Elderly

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the demographics of the world is changing so much that more and more people are living beyond their life expectancy. By 2050, it is estimated that the amount of individuals aged 60 and above will increase from just 600 million (in the year 2000) to a whopping 2 billion. Malaysia is also facing an aging population as it is estimated that in 2020, around 7.5% of the Malaysian population will be made up of those aged 65 and above – that’s around 2.5 million people!

The new vulnerable group 

An aging population is actually an enviable problem as it is a result of an advanced and robust health care sector, economic prosperity as well as social stability. For as long as one can remember, the country’s health policy has always put great emphasis on reducing infant mortality as well as maternal death (due to obstetric complications). The efforts and successes of these policies have not only led to a booming population, but also longevity. 

For instance, the infant mortality rate has dropped to just 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 14.3 deaths in 1990. Our life expectancy has also increased to 75.3 years in 2016 compared to just 70.3 years in 1990. According to statistics, the median age of Malaysia’s population had increased from just 21.6 years old in 1990 to 28.2 years old in 2015. Needless to say, all these figures are pointing towards one thing – a new vulnerable demographic. Our continuously aging population is calling for the strengthening of geriatric care, a new focus for the healthcare sector. 

Vaccine for our aging population

With regards to geriatric care, countries are urged to promote the concept of healthy aging for its citizens. As people get older, they experience physiological and immunological decline. This makes them especially susceptible to age-related diseases such as dementia and preventable infections. 

Studies have found that the incidence of infectious diseases such as influenza, pneumococcal disease and herpes zoster infection are highest in the elderly. Comorbidities and immunological decline (immunosenescence) all contribute to these mounting incidences. Not only are they more susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases, these infections can also worsen their existing morbidities, accelerate functional decline and hasten death.

The burden of preventable diseases has shifted from children to the elderly thanks to the robust childhood vaccination coverage. In regions where childhood vaccination coverage is excellent (as seen in European countries), the older population recorded the highest incidence rate of tetanus and diphtheria.

According to Professor David E. Bloom, Professor of Economics and Demography at Harvard University, immunisation should be incorporated as one of the key elements of geriatric care. It should be seen as an addition to current preventive measures such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, actively losing weight and eating a balanced diet. Three vaccines that the government can begin with include vaccinations for influenza, pneumococcal and herpes zoster.

Professor David E. Bloom, Professor of Economics and Demography at Harvard University.

“In strengthening geriatric care, the government should shift its focus from treatment and cure, to a robust and wholesome prevention model (through the use of vaccines). This is in line with the concept of healthy aging,” said Professor David Bloom during an interview at Sanofi Malaysia’s office here in Kuala Lumpur. 

Governments should consider allocating more of its resources to prevention as it is more cost-effective and contributes to a more cohesive society. Just like the old adage, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure’.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

msBahasa Malaysia

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