Country Medical Director, GSK Canada
As populations age globally, the public health and economic burden of vaccine-preventable disease among adults is set to increase; adult immunization rates need to improve.i,ii
Immunization is often thought of as something only for kids as childhood vaccination has become so well ingrained in our society today.
But, the importance of vaccination continues throughout life — teenagers receive vaccines to prevent meningococcal disease, HPV, and hepatitis B. There are also vaccines recommended for adults, as well as for people with certain chronic diseases.
Since our immune systems gradually weaken as we age and our bodies aren’t as well-equipped to fight infection, immunization is especially important for Canadian adults as they age. In fact, there are diseases that are more common in older age, even in healthy adults, for example, shingles and pneumonia.
Additionally, as we get older, protection from previous vaccination against some diseases can wane. In this case, getting a booster dose can increase immunity to provide the best protection. In other cases, adults may have missed one or more of their vaccines from childhood and need to catch up.iii
Immunization is a public health success story
“Immunization is a public health success story,” says Marni Freeman, Country Medical Director at GSK, adding that the World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevent two to three million deaths worldwide every year.iv
“Despite this, we’re seeing that vaccination rates in Canadian adults are historically low.v The success of vaccination programs has meant that many people no longer see diseases such as polio, tetanus, and measles, that used to be common,” says Freeman. “They may have forgotten how potentially devastating they can be. We need to get better at helping people understand the benefits of vaccination beyond childhood, particularly as there are vaccine-preventable diseases that can significantly impact older adults, including shingles, influenza and pneumonia.”
Creating greater access to vaccines around the globe
GSK is a leading vaccine company, delivering vaccines that help protect people at all stages of life. The company invests in scientific and technical excellence to develop and launch innovative vaccines and is committed to creating greater access to vaccines around the globe.
GSK has 12 vaccine manufacturing sites across nine countries, including its Ste-Foy vaccine manufacturing site in Quebec, which produces a portion of Canada’s seasonal influenza vaccine, delivered as part of the national immunization program. This global network produced and delivered 767 million doses in 2021.
The company’s research and development team has 21 potential vaccines in developmentvi which includes vaccines for diseases such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and meningococcal disease. GSK’s current portfolio of 20 vaccines is the broadest in the industry, helping protect people worldwide from a range of diseases, including meningitis, shingles, influenza, whooping cough, measles, hepatitis, and more.vii
Since our immune systems gradually weaken as we age and our bodies aren’t as well-equipped to fight infection, immunization is especially important for Canadian adults as they age.
“Vaccine manufacture is a complex and time-consuming process, involving multiple operations with total cycle times of approximately 18 to 24 months, of which, 70 percent is focused on quality control and assurance steps. It was extraordinary to witness industry and governments work at an incredible pace to deliver vaccines to address the COVID-19 pandemic around the world,” Freeman says. “Our vaccines scientists are focused on discovering and developing novel vaccines to help address public health challenges and get ahead of disease around the world. Their work in vaccine platform technologies enables us to select the most promising approach to develop new vaccines previously not thought possible.”viii
Greater awareness of vaccine benefits is critical
While vaccine development is vital, Freeman says it’s also critical to educate people on the benefits of adult vaccination. “If adult vaccination coverage rates don’t improve, I’m concerned we could see an increase in illness and death caused by vaccine-preventable diseases,” she says.
Influenza can cause mild flu symptoms resolving for most people within a couple of weeks. However, some people may develop more severe symptoms leading to complications, like, pneumonia, some of which can be life-threatening.
For seniors and adults with chronic diseases, pneumonia is a major cause of hospitalizations and can be life-threatening. In 2017 and 2018, pneumonia led to 138,485 emergency department visits across Canada.ix It was also the ninth leading cause of a trip to the ER.x
Additionally, due to the natural aging of our immune systems, adults 50 years and older are at increased risk for shinglesxi — 1 in 3 will develop the disease in their lifetime.xii It typically presents as a painful, itchy rash that develops on one side of the body and can last for two to four weeks.xiii Once the rash is gone, some people have experienced what is known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), a painful condition that can last for several months, and in some rare cases, up to several years.xiv
But there are encouraging signs that Canadians are changing their attitudes toward vaccination. A recent survey found that since the onset of the pandemic, eight out of 10 people have a greater understanding of the benefits of vaccination as a means of self-protection.xv “The COVID-19 pandemic has bred a broader awareness about the vulnerability of our immune system and the very real benefits of vaccination,” Freeman says.
“I hope that Canadian adults can take this awareness and apply it towards routine vaccinations. Canadians should know that they have access to many effective vaccines. The first step is to speak with your health care provider about the benefits and safety of vaccines and to understand which ones are right for you.”
This page was made possible with support from GSK Canada.
i WHO. Plan for the Decade of Healthy Aging. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/decade-of-healthy-ageing/final-decade-proposal/decade-proposal-final-apr2020-en.pdf?sfvrsn=b4b75ebc_3
ii Ozawa et al. Health Aff (Millwood). 2016 Nov 1;35(11):2124-2132
iii Canada. Adult Vaccination. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/vaccination-adults.html
vi Our pipeline. https://www.gsk.com/en-gb/research-and-development/our-pipeline (accessed March 2022)
vii GSK 2021 Annual Report, p.32
viii GSK 2021 Annual Report, p.19
ix Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2018). Emergency Department Visits: Volumes and Median Length of Stay by Triage Level, Visit Disposition and Main Problem https://www.cihi.ca/en/nacrs-emergency-department-ed-visits-volumes-and-median-length-of-stay-by-triage-level-visit
x Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2018). NACRS Emergency Department Visits and Length of Stay, 2017–2018 https://www.cihi.ca/en/nacrs-emergency-department-visits-and-length-of-stay-2017-2018
xi Weinberg A et al. Influence of age and nature of primary infection on varicella-zoster virus-specific cell-mediated immune responses. The Journal of infectious diseases, 201(7), 1024-1030. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/201/7/1024/807004
xii CDC Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Burden and Trends. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/surveillance.html
xiii Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Signs & Symptoms Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/symptoms.html
xiv Vaccine Information Statements (VISs). Live Shingles VIS. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/shingles.html