Immunosenescence in the Elderly and its Effects on COVID-19 Vaccination

Updated on August 20, 2021
Smiling senior patient sitting on wheelchair with nurse supporting her. Doctor looking at elderly patient on a wheelchair in the garden. Nurse holding hand of mature woman outside pension home.

The whole of last year and well into 2021, the world fought against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. With no certain treatment in sight, prevention is the only way to win over this battle. Thanks to the tremendous efforts put in by health professionals and researchers, 2021 came with a ray of hope in the form of vaccines to immunise the masses. 

The successful launch of vaccines in under a year is a remarkable achievement in itself, something that usually takes at least a few years! Vaccines are the best bet humanity has in ending this scary episode.

However, when it comes to seniors above 70, it’s more than just vaccine efficacy or side effects that determine how well a particular vaccine candidate works. In general, as you grow old, your immunity gets weaker.

What Is Immunosenescence? 

Immunosenescence is the lowering of immune functions in your body that happens due to old age. It is a major hindrance to the vaccinations of the elderly. Read on to find what it means for COVID-19 vaccination and what you should keep in mind before taking your elderly parents for their shots.

Old-Age and Immunity

Minus the Shingles vaccine (forpeople above 70) and a few others for meningitis and HPV infections (for young adults), most vaccines target neonatal and childhood diseases. In essence, there’s not much research on the effect of vaccinations on the elderly.

Another reason vaccinating the elderly (at high risk for COVID-19) is a challenge is their weaker immunity. Immunosenescence, or the ageing of a body’s immune system, makes it difficult for vaccines to do their job, that is, to produce protective antibodies against diseases.

B-cells, T-cells, Antibodies – The Orchestra of Adaptive Immunity

When a virus enters your body, a series of immune reactions happen that help identify the pathogen and kill it. Macrophages, T-cells and B-cells are the key players in this carefully orchestrated show. Age disrupts this delicate balance of the key players and weakens the body’s strength to fight.

This is why a common cold can take a nasty turn in older people. The purpose of vaccines is to mimic the body’s natural immune reaction and speed up the production of antibodies. However, it still needs all of the body’s fighter cells to do its job. Senescence prevents this from happening.

The Impact of Age is Not the Same for All

Like all other age-related issues, dietary and lifestyle changes can help prevent and reverse the effects of age. Here are some tips you should follow to maintain good immune health.

  • Exercise regularly, even if it is some kind of light exercise like brisk walking.
  • Avoid high-protein, meat-based diets as much as you can.
  • Include immunity building food like legumes, olive oil, whole grains, fruits and fresh vegetables in your diet.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking.

 Summing Up

Thanks to the advancements in vaccine research, there are several vaccine candidates for COVID-19 in such a short time. However, vaccinating seniors who are above 70 years of age is trickier than vaccinating others. Due to their weakened immunity even, the best vaccine may not work efficiently.

However, preventive lifestyle changes can help address this issue. Here’s hoping this blog helped you understand the basics of immunosenescence and what it means for COVID-19 shots for the elderly.

Stay safe!

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