Vaccines and infectious diseases in ageing population
​Due to demographic developments, the population of older adults increases in size every year. This ageing population is more vulnerable to infectious diseases, such as pneumonia and influenza, which leads to increased mortality in this group. In addition, older in​dividuals are also less responsive to vaccination, due to the age-related deregulation of the immune response. The ability of influenza vaccine, for example, to induce protection has an efficacy between 70-90% in children and adults, but is dropping to 30-50% in people over 65 years of age.

The VITAL project has been initiated to address this challenge of high mortality through infection and low responsiveness to vaccination in the ageing population and the resulting burden on the healthcare system.

Collaboration with patients, institutions and SMEs

A consortium of EFPIA industry partners, SMEs and 14 universities, including hospitals and research institutions as well as the Dutch national institute for public health and the environment joined forces to develop vaccination strategies to prevent infectious diseases in the elderly population. Through a multidisciplinary public-private approach, VITAL will generate health, economic and societal benefits by mapping the disease burden of infectious diseases to be prevented by vaccines, uncover mechanisms of immune response and model the clinical and economic consequences of possible vaccination strategies in different age and risk groups. 

Furthermore, the consortium will develop teaching tools for stakeholders working with the elderly/older adults. A concrete example is focus groups that are organised with both older adults as well as health care professionals to understand perceptions of ageing adults and health care professionals on vaccines and thereby create training and education for healthcare professionals on vaccination of ageing adults. Ultimately, by addressing the challenge of infectious diseases in the ageing population, the VITAL project will contribute to new vaccination strategies to improve health and wellbeing in the ageing population, and a reduced burden on healthcare systems.

Predicting response to vaccines in older population

Prof. Debbie van BaarleProf. Mieke Boots, and their colleagues within the program of translational immunology at the University Medical Center Groningen participate in this project by analysing pre- and post-vaccination samples. They aim to find immune markers that can predict response or non-response to influenza and pneumococcal vaccines in the older population. They capitalise on the knowledge of various cohort studies like the Senex cohort and Doetinchem cohort to analyse existing data and samples. The outbreak of the recent Covid pandemic underlines the urgency of efficacy of vaccination in older adults and further analysis is performed on anti-SARS-COV2 antibodies in the older age groups  to investigate whether exposure to the virus may impact the vaccination response.

Measuring impact on quality of life

As part of the VITAL project, Prof. Maarten Postma and his team at the University Medical Center Groningen will investigate how the full economic impact of the current management of infectious diseases (vaccine preventable, potentially vaccine preventable, non-vaccine preventable and others) in aging adults can be measured, reported and optimally communicated with decision makers in each local authority in Europe. Secondly, it will analyse what the impact of new preventive interventions including vaccination could be on optimising the management of infectious diseases in that age-group by reaching maximum gains in outcomes including quality of life but working under constraints of budget, logistics, tax payment and demographic change among others. Emphasis will be on novel model development to assess influenza, pneumococcal, RSV and zoster vaccines. 

Prof. Debbie van Baarle, who is the scientific lead of this project says:  ’With this project, which has only become more relevant in view of the recent COVID19 outbreak, I want to significantly contribute to improved vaccination strategies for older adults, the population most in need of protection against infectious diseases’.

This project is funded under IMI2, Grant agreement number 806776 for a duration of 5 years (1.1.2019 – 31.12.2023).