GSK continues campaign for greater adult immunisation coverage

Views & Analysis
GSK continues campaign for greater adult immunisation coverage

The UK company reveals the results from a partner-led survey to discover the rates of vaccination for adults, why levels are lower than expected, and what can be done to improve this. Ben Hargreaves examines the reasons supplied by the survey and why GSK is invested in the answers.

The emergence of COVID-19 meant that public awareness around vaccination and its importance in fighting the spread of infectious disease has increased rapidly. The result of the improving knowledge of vaccines’ role in society initially led to a rise in interest in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The pandemic also went some way towards more attention being paid to general wellbeing, especially in terms of mental health.

However, as with many issues across modern society, there has been a degree of polarisation in people’s reactions to vaccination campaigns during the pandemic. While for some individuals it has increased trust in vaccination and the pharma industry, there has also been a consistent level of mistrust of the available vaccines – with 16% of respondents to a survey in the UK expressing high levels of mistrust.

With a portfolio containing a number of vaccines, GSK has been working for some years on the question of adult vaccination and why immunisation rates are falling, particularly in those over 50 years of age. As a result, the company recently conducted an online study, alongside Kantar, a data analytics and brand consulting company, to provide insights on what people are looking for in their vaccine decision-making process.

Why adult immunisation is important

GSK set up a presentation call to go into greater detail on the findings, during which Piyali Mukherjee, GSK’s head of global medical affairs, vaccines, outlined why adult immunisation can be regarded as a crucial issue facing society. Central to Mukherjee’s message was that the populations of many countries have a rising average age, which creates broad societal issues, such as an ageing workforce, but also generates a greater medical need.

Mukherjee explained that the human immune system becomes weaker as people age, which leads to a greater susceptibility to catching infectious diseases and also experiencing more acute cases when infected. This is compounded by any adverse lifestyle factors or pre-existing comorbidities, which can accelerate the decline in the ability of the immune system to protect the body. With an increasingly ageing population, Mukherjee explained that this means the world will need to adapt accordingly.

One way to combat ill-health due to ageing is through vaccination, which helps to protect the population against common infectious diseases. However, the study conducted by Kantar found that patients aged 50 and older are not getting vaccinated where healthcare professionals (HCPs) feel it is relevant. For example, 56% of the participants had received a flu vaccine in the prior five years, even though 82% of HCPs stated that it was relevant for this age group. Similar findings were revealed in pneumonia vaccination, with 14% of participants receiving one when 73% of HCPs believed it was relevant; 10% of participants had a shingles vaccine, with 63% of HCPs stating it was relevant.

Addressing the issue

As part of its campaign to improve the rates of vaccination in adults, GSK positions vaccines as one means of ensuring that an ageing population can remain healthy. The survey conducted by Kantar is one means by which answers can be delivered on how to encourage greater uptake of vaccines.

The results of the survey found that 80% of individuals believe that looking after their health is their own responsibility. In separate research, GSK found that the pandemic resulted in people placing greater importance on health, with 80% of people also stating that they had a greater understanding of the benefits of vaccination.

In Kantar’s research, this led to 88% of people surveyed having been vaccinated against COVID-19. However, as mentioned, similar rates were not seen for other vaccines and the survey suggested that this was down to a lack of information. Eight out of 10 individuals surveyed agreed that “they need to know why they should do it,” in terms of getting vaccinated. This also falls in line with 30% of respondents in the UK needing to know what the side-effects might be to consider being vaccinated.

The role of HCPs

Gayle Davey, partner, consulting division at Kantar, explained during the presentation that the source of information for many individuals is through their HCP: “Healthcare professionals are the most trusted source for vaccine information. For those people with chronic conditions, these people rely on HCPs even more.”

On the HCPs’ side, Davey outlined that only 44% responded, saying they had discussed vaccination with their patients. The reasons why this was so low were variously explained to be due to a lack of time (65%), due to avoidance as the patient did not want to talk about it (44%), due to a lack of literature or information (31%), or because the patient was not interested (18%).

As a contradiction, HCPs stated that more effectively offering vaccines to adults could reduce their workload because fewer people would need their services. Davey concluded that the infrastructure for vaccination has been effectively deployed for ensuring paediatric vaccination, but that more work needs to be done to provide similar coverage for adults.

Vaccines central to GSK’s portfolio

From a business perspective, the issue of adult vaccination is important to GSK’s plans for its vaccines division. GSK has a portfolio of more than 20 vaccine products, and the company states that 40% of the world’s children receive a GSK vaccine each year.

A key product for the company is Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine), which is a vaccine that protects against shingles and is approved for adults 50 years and older. At the height of the pandemic, GSK reported that vaccine demand declined by an average of more than 60%. However, in the most recent financial figures, sales of Shingrix had recovered and allowed the company to raise its full-year guidance, due to the vaccine’s strong sales. The company will be looking to build on the revenue generated by the product before any other companies are able to launch a similarly effective, rival product onto the market. At the beginning of this year, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they would partner to develop an mRNA-based vaccine for shingles.