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Elderly to make up 20% of the population by 2050: Why adult immunization is the need of the hour

Ahmedabad, According to the United Nations Population Fund’s ‘India Ageing Report 2023’, by 2036, the number of people above 50 is expected to surge to 404 million from 260 million in 2020.[i] By 2050, one in every five individuals will be above the age of 50. i India’s healthcare system needs to be prepared to address the challenges of the ageing population.

One of the key challenges is increased vulnerability to infectious diseases such as pneumonia, influenza, and shingles that can cause a significant physical, mental and economic impact on ageing adults.[ii] Shingles, a painful rash caused by the reactivation of an old chickenpox virus, can even lead to a painful complication termed ‘postherpetic neuralgia’.[iii]

These infections not only compromise the quality of life but also impose a significant burden on India’s healthcare system.[iv] Ageing adults with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory illness and diabetes  are even more susceptible to infectious diseases.[v] According to a 2017 report, adults account for more than 95% of infectious disease-related deaths in India. v Not only are these diseases debilitating, but they also tend to aggravate NCDs, resulting in increased hospitalisation.[vi]

Adult immunization offers a promising solution to address this challenge of infectious diseases. But its adoption is alarmingly low. While the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) has made significant strides in childhood vaccinations, there remains a noticeable gap in adult immunization. Data from API-Ipsos’s 2023 survey on adult immunization reveals that 71% of adults aged 50 years and above are aware of adult vaccination, yet only 16% have received any adult vaccination.[vii] This gap between awareness and action highlights the urgent need for greater education and awareness campaigns targeted at our ageing population.

Dr Surabhi Madan, Infectious Diseases Consultant at Marengo CIMS Hospital and Tathaagat Infectious Diseases Clinic, Ahmedabad explains, “As we age, our immunity lowers, a phenomenon known as ‘immunosenescence’.[viii] This typically begins after the age of 50, making older adults more susceptible to infections like shingles, pneumococcal disease, and influenza.[ix] I encourage everyone aged 50 and above to speak with their doctors and learn more about the available vaccinations to avoid pain and discomfort in their later years.”

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) theme for this year’s World Immunization Week, ‘Humanly Possible: Saving Lives Through Immunization,’ emphasises the significance of immunization in preventing diseases and saving lives.[x] Celebrating 50 years of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), WHO calls on countries to invest in immunization programmes to protect future generations. viii

The need for adult immunization in India is a pressing public health issue that cannot be ignored. With India’s ageing population expected to reach 404 million by 2036, i the time to act is now. By promoting awareness, encouraging dialogue, and prioritising adult immunization, we can safeguard the health and well-being of our ageing population and lay the groundwork for healthy ageing in India.

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