The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the VITAL Project

The recent COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies the importance of protecting at risk populations against infectious diseases. The disease has severely impacted VITAL’s focus group: the ageing adults. This highlights the potential of the project. VITAL will provide useful and necessary knowledge on understanding the burden of disease and the mechanisms underlying ageing of the immune system. Both these factors may contribute to lower immune responses to infections and worsened disease outcome in this age group.

The current situation calls for the need to delineate who is most at risk of severe infections and how to mitigate these risks with prevention options. More specifically vaccination strategies and modelling vulnerability of older adults, prevention options against burden of disease and economic impact. This pandemic also shows the importance of communicating the infectious disease risks and preventive options to the older populations. All these tasks are part of the VITAL project and therefore the work will substantially contribute to the infectious disease problems of the past, present and future.

Despite the project’s importance, a delay within the project was inevitable.  Researchers from participating institutes and partners are heavily involved in monitoring and managing the COVID-19 outbreak.  In addition research plans are affected, as information had to be altered, and the clinical vaccine study was temporarily on hold.

But the pandemic has created opportunities for VITAL for new investigations that other projects may not have the chance to undertake. One of these opportunities is to follow up on COVID-19 patients who recovered and evaluate their vulnerability to new infections (WP1), to examine whether blood immune signatures of SARS-COV-2-infected persons interfere with vaccination response across the different age groups (WP2). Another opportunity is to integrate the costs of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in an economic model  (WP3) and again assessing the value of vaccination among ageing adults by performing new focus-group studies (WP4).

To increase the outreach of the VITAL project and provide more information about what it does and its advantages, the work package leads combined their ambitions and plans in a first scientific paper, which was published on the 24th of July in the Vaccine journal.