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Vaccines for an Aging Population

Population aging has stoked fear that the burden on government budgets, health-care systems, and economies will become untenable. But there's something we can do to lighten the load: improve the health of the elderly through vaccination.

SEATTLE – The world’s population is getting bigger – and older. With the elderly increasingly close to outnumbering their younger counterparts – by 2050, there will be nearly three times more people aged 65 and above than people under four years old – many fear that the burden on government budgets, health-care systems, and economies will become untenable. But there is something we can do to ease that burden: improve the health of the elderly.

As we age, our bodies undergo complex changes that, among other things, progressively weaken our ability to respond to infections and develop immunity (this is called immunosenescence). That is why diseases in older adults tend to be more severe, with a greater impact on quality of life, disability, and mortality, than the same diseases in younger patients.

Put simply, aging adults’ immune systems need backup. That is where vaccines come in.

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