VITAL Project Addresses Seniors' Immune System Weakness

Infectious disease prevention through vaccination is a requirement to promote healthy aging

older woman being helped to walk

The EU-sponsored Vaccines and Infectious diseases in the Aging population (VITAL) project was launched addressing the challenges of infections in the elderly and the potential of infection prevention by vaccination.

Seniors are more vulnerable to infectious diseases because their immune system becomes weaker with increasing age, said an article published in European Pharmaceutical Review. 

In order to achieve optimal vaccination strategies for elderly to better protect them against infectious diseases, better insights are needed on how the overall process of aging, exposure to infection, and immune response to vaccination, is developing and evolving. 

Within the VITAL project, which will run from 2019-2023, University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht will be the managing entity and scientific lead. 

The VITAL project is sponsored by the European Union’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) with grants from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries Associations(EFPIA). 

The consortium academic leader is Professor Debbie van Baarle, professor of Immunology of Vaccinations at UMC Utrecht and Head of the Department of Immune Mechanisms at the Centre for Immunology of Infectious Diseases and Vaccines at the National Institute of Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands. 

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Dr. van Baarle explained, “An aging immune system is known to cause increased infection rates in elderly people.” 

“Prevention of infectious diseases in the elderly through vaccination is a requirement to promote healthy aging in this growing population.” 

Our main challenge, in close collaboration with our EFPIA partners, is to overcome the reduced immune responsiveness of this age group by improving the efficacy of vaccines and to identify new vaccination strategies to protect elderly people from infectious diseases.” 

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, Investigate immunity to infections and vaccinations in the aging population, calculate the clinical and economic consequences of possible vaccination strategies in different age and risk groups, and develop teaching tools for stakeholders. 

The program is in line with recent recommendations from the European Council to strengthen cooperation against vaccine-preventable diseases by working on cross-border vaccination programs and develop research and development studies for better understanding the benefit of life-long vaccination impact.