Vaccines Medical Affairs, India
I’m Santosh. I trained as a doctor and I have a background in clinical pharmacology. My early career involved overseeing clinical trials for all medicines, including vaccines.
Over the years, I’ve worked on all sorts of areas including cardiovascular health, neurology and nutrition. When the opportunity arose to work on vaccines, I grabbed it with both hands because I’m passionate about preventative medicine.
Today, I help raise awareness in India of the importance of vaccines at every level, particularly for one of the more vulnerable demographics of our society: the elderly.
Why is vaccination so important for the elderly?
Vaccines are about healthy living, and I feel this is something that’s often overlooked for elderly populations. As our loved ones get older, we tend to focus on disease management, but I believe we should also be helping people to age in a healthy manner. It’s important that people know how to keep their health at its best level - at any age - and I believe vaccines can play a huge role in this.
In India there is currently no robust programme for vaccinating the elderly, as the main focus is childhood vaccination. While childhood vaccines are crucial, I’m working to ensure that people of all ages are factored into vaccination strategies so that everyone can stay protected from dangerous diseases. This is of particular importance when considering diseases that often seriously impact the elderly, in particular pneumococcal diseases.
Why do we need pneumococcal vaccines and what are the challenges?
Pneumococcal disease is a bacterial infection which can lead to ear or sinus infections, and sometimes escalates to pneumonia and bloodstream infections. Although it infects people of all ages, those infected over 65 are at risk of more severe illness. Amongst older adults hospitalised by pneumonia, mortality rates can be as high as 50% .
Although pneumococcal vaccines are part of many routine vaccination programmes for children, many do not know that they can help to protect older people too. I remember encouraging my own parents to get their pneumococcal vaccine and realising many of my medical colleagues did not know that they could and should be recommending them to their elderly patients too. It made me realise that if there was this lack of awareness at senior healthcare level, others likely know even less. Ever since then, I’ve been motivated to improve societal awareness about these vaccines and show how they can help people, and especially the elderly.
How can vaccines for older people benefit society as a whole?
As people live for longer generally, our elderly populations continue to grow in size. There are currently more than 1 billion people aged 60 or older , and by 2050 we could see that number double . To keep our populations healthy as they age, healthcare tools such as pneumococcal vaccines can play an important role. They can help to protect people with a higher risk of serious illness and hospitalization, as well as relieving pressure on healthcare systems.
As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’; vaccines are one of the best demonstrations of this. It is my biggest hope that we will see more people of all ages knowing about the full range of vaccines available and reaping the benefits of these life-saving medical tools.Read next story