LISTENING to one of Professor Raina MacIntyre's research presentations, one has to wonder why vaccination in the elderly is not a regimented program already in place across the world.
Vaccinations have been a controversial topic in Australia in recent years but the statistics show there are still is excess of 90 per cent of children who are receiving their immunisations, so why then, when many governments are funding adult vaccines, are only 70 per cent of adults vaccinated for influenza and 54 per cent for meningococcal?
This is the argument that Prof. MacIntyre posed to a captivate audience on June 21 at the IFA's 13th Global Conference in Brisbane.
"So why is there a gap even when the vaccines are funded?" she said.
"There's a range of reasons, one is that with infant vaccination, they are brought in by their parents, so it's easy to vaccinate a baby.
"Adults are more mobile so keeping track of vaccination is more difficult and the other reason is that doctors and nurses don't have as much confidence in vaccinations for older people, which isn't true."
Prof. MacIntyre revealed through her research that vaccines are less effective in older people, but not ineffective.
This is because after the age of 50 the immune system starts to decline, and for that reason the risk of infectious diseases rises exponentially.
"However, when you look at the burden of disease, that is the risk of infection, with increasing age and the trade-off of lower, less effective vaccines, it's still very much worthwhile vaccinating people because the burden of disease is so high, you're still going to make an impact, you're still going to prevent the preventable infections," she said.
Shingles is a particularly debilitating disease for older people and any infection, including shingles can actually be the trigger which can precipitate someone going from independent living into assisted living.
"There was a lady who developed shingles on her chest and the pain was so severe and so chronic she couldn't wear her bra, so she stopped leaving her house and in a very short amount of time she had to go from independent living to assisted living," Prof MacIntyre said.
"And that shows how debilitating and life changing an infectious disease can be."
A funded shingles vaccine will be launched this year in Australia for those aged 70-79 years old.
"Health care providers need to start seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty and need to start being advocates themselves to support this change," Prof. MacIntyre said.
"Empowerment of people in the community and that they're informed about vaccines and that they're eligible to receive these vaccines."
Australia will receive a vaccine registry for adults from August this year, in the hope to improve vaccination rates in Australian adults and allow for the tracking of vaccinations for both health care providers and individuals.