Vaccines and infectious diseases in the ageing population project begins

The VITAL project addresses the challenges to medicines for the ageing population, with millions in grants and sponsors going into research…


The EU-sponsored Vaccines and Infectious diseases in the Ageing population (VITAL) project was launched, which addresses – in a public-private consortium – the challenges of infections in the elderly and the potential of infection prevention by vaccination.

Within the VITAL project, which will run from 2019-2023, University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht will be the managing entity and scientific lead. The €12.4 million project is sponsored by the European Union’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) with a grant of €5.5 million which will be matched by grants in total of €6.9 million 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.

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.

Dr Debbie 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 ageing 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.”

Due to demographic developments, the population of elderly increases in size every year. Older people are more vulnerable to infectious diseases because their immune system becomes weaker with increasing age. As a consequence, an increasing burden of infections in the elderly is observed. Avoiding such infections by vaccination should delay, reduce, or avoid the exposure to institutionalised health care. In order to achieve optimal vaccination strategies for elderly or better protect elderly against infectious diseases, better insights are needed on how the overall process of ageing, exposure to infection, and immune response to vaccination, is developing and evolving.