About Author: An accomplished pharmaceutical entrepreneur, Jayantilal B. Chowhan is the Chairman to the Board of Vardhman Health Specialities. Following a career span of more than five decades, Mr. Chowhan foraged into Indian market at a time when Pharma industry was taking baby steps. He has been instrumental in the launch of Coactive Technology Company — VHS Logitech which has been designed to create unique solutions for Supply Chain Management – cold chain for pharma industry. He has also ventured in medical devices business and started ‘Robomed’; the high end and lifesaving medical devices.
In the world’s second most populous country, India, much ground has been covered in childhood vaccination – thanks to awareness campaigns and education. However at the other end of the spectrum there seems to be complete lack of knowledge and importance of adult immunization – an area that is neglected primarily because of lack of awareness. In a country with about 1.4 billion population, unvaccinated adults act a storehouse of infection spreader to vulnerable sections (read: infants / children, aged). As much as childhood inoculation is important for preventing many diseases, it must be borne in mind that vaccination of adults is equally important for the self and community well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call to raise awareness of the importance of adult immunization on a war footing.
Why low prevalence of adult immunization:
While the reasons for the low number of vaccinations among adults could be multiple, it is no brainer to assume that sheer lack of awareness of the impact of not taking vaccines stands out distinctly. Secondly, misconception that vaccines taken in childhood is enough for a lifetime. Other reasons like vaccine hesitancy, cost, safety and risk also emerge as possible reasons for low adult immunization prevalence. For instance, although HPV vaccination is recommended for girls aged 9–18 years and for adults up to various ages in a survey of 210 Indian physicians, only 47% knew that HPV vaccines were approved for use in India and only 30% said they would recommend HPV vaccination. In a 2014 study of medical/paramedical students in a teaching hospital in India, only 7% had received HPV vaccination, and 49% of the unvaccinated students said that they would be unwilling to be vaccinated due to concerns about efficacy (30%), safety (26%), cost (22%), and low perceived risk (15%).
Why adult immunization?
It is estimated that more than 25% of mortalities are due to infections which are vaccine preventable. It is of utmost importance to debunk the age-old myth that they are protected for life after getting their childhood doses of vaccines. On the contrary, adults MUST keep up with their vaccines and boosters to stay healthy. With age, waning immunity, prevalence of other chronic ailments augments the probability of contracting some of the infections and diseases which in turn can have a dominos effect on vulnerable sections of the society like infants and aged. Specifically, better coverage could result in reduced incidence rates, hospital admissions, health costs, and an improved quality of life.
How to increase adult immunization coverage:
As in all healthcare programs, the key to achieving the maximum ‘strike rate’ lies in awareness and education among the masses. And adult immunization is no different. The need of the hour is a high decibel campaign with multiple stakeholders like the government, hospitals, dispensaries and probably even medical stores working in tandem to achieve the desired result. If statistics are anything to go by, over 2/3rd of Indian adults are not aware of adult vaccination, many thinking that vaccines are only for children. Key components of the campaign should include:
Age-wise demarcation of and frequency of vaccines that should mandatorily be taken
Debunking pre-conceived misconceptions and myths about adult inoculation, more so its after effects and vaccine efficacy
List of hospitals and medical centres where adult inoculations are available
Health implications and possible ailments one can contracts if the appropriate vaccine is not taken
Use an omni channel approach for percolation of information and messaging