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New clinician resource available explains biological impact of aging on immunity and the importance of vaccines

Guidebook on adult immunization now available from professional groups representing 220,000 clinicians

Philadelphia, December 6, 2017 – The American College of Physicians (ACP), the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), and The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), representing 220,000 clinicians, today released Aging and Immunity: The Important Role of Vaccines, a new resource highlighting the biological impact of aging on immunity.

Developed with support by GSK, the guidebook is designed to help health care professionals understand the biological impact of aging on immunity and reinforce the importance of adult immunization, especially for vaccine-preventable diseases such as shingles, pneumonia, and influenza. The guidebook also offers practical tips and strategies for supporting aging patients’ health and overcoming barriers to vaccination.

Age-related decline in immunity

“As we age, our immune system declines, making older adults more susceptible to serious conditions,” said Jack Ende, MD, MACP, President, ACP. “Understanding the aging immune system is becoming increasingly important for clinicians because vaccination is an effective solution to overcoming some of this age-related decline in immunity.”

Research has shown that one of the most important things health care professionals can do to support aging patients is to provide a strong recommendation for them to be vaccinated.

“At every opportunity, clinicians should recommend vaccination according to the schedule from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, have a program that supports vaccine administration, or refer patients to a health care professional who administers vaccines, and document administration of vaccines,” said Kelly Goode, PharmD, BCPS, FAPhA, Board of Trustees Member and Immediate Past President, APhA.

As individuals age, the chances of getting shingles increases

Aging and Immunity details how cell-mediated immunity deteriorates as a person ages. For instance, in people who had chickenpox as children, deteriorating cell-mediated immunity is considered a factor for why latent varicella zoster virus commonly becomes reactivated in older adults, causing shingles. About one million cases of shingles are diagnosed in the United States every year. Shingles occurs in one in every three people in the United States, mostly adults over the age of 50. For those who live to age 85, one in every two people will contract shingles. The painful condition occurs in people who are healthy as well as people with chronic diseases or immunosuppression. Vaccination is an important way of reducing risk of getting shingles and its complications, like postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) and necessity of prescribing pain relievers.

“Shingles is an example of a disease that afflicts one million adults every year and costs the economy $1 billion in health care expenses. It especially impacts older adults as a direct result of age-related decline in immunity,” said James Appleby, BSPharm, MPH, Executive Director and CEO, GSA. “Shingles can affect anyone who carries the varicella zoster virus, and virtually all adults do, whether they had chickenpox during their childhood or not.”

Addressing barriers to vaccination

Aging and Immunity explains barriers to vaccination at the patient and practice levels and offers recommendations about how clinicians can overcome them. Strategies to improve vaccination rates include using standing orders, collaborating with other health care team members, identifying a staff vaccine champion in the practice, adding reminders to charts, and counseling patients about recommended vaccines.

“We recognize the critical role health care professionals play in educating patients about vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Barbara Howe, M.D., Vice President and Director, Vaccines Medical and Clinical, US, GSK. “Our collaboration with ACP, APhA, and GSA reinforces our commitment to educating health care professionals and patients about the importance of vaccination throughout an individual’s life.”

About the American College of Physicians

The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the United States with members in more than 145 countries worldwide. ACP membership includes 152,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness. Follow ACP on Twitter and Facebook.

About the American Pharmacists Association

The American Pharmacists Association, founded in 1852 as the American Pharmaceutical Association, is a 501 (c)(6) organization, representing 64,000 practicing pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, student pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and others interested in advancing the profession. As the voice of pharmacy, the American Pharmacists Association leads the profession and equips members for their role as the medication expert in team-based, patient-centered care. APhA is dedicated to helping all pharmacists improve medication use and advance patient care and is the first-established and largest association of pharmacists in the United States. For more information, please visit www.pharmacist.com.

About The Gerontological Society of America

The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) is the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society, and an educational unit, the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

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