Immune age and biological age as determinants of vaccine responsiveness among elderly populations: the Human Immunomics Initiative research program

Eur J Epidemiol. 2021 Jul;36(7):753-762. doi: 10.1007/s10654-021-00767-z. Epub 2021 Jun 12.


The Human Immunomics Initiative (HII), a joint project between the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Human Vaccines Project (HVP), focuses on studying immunity and the predictability of immuneresponsiveness to vaccines in aging populations. This paper describes the hypotheses and methodological approaches of this new collaborative initiative. Central to our thinking is the idea that predictors of age-related non-communicable diseases are the same as predictors for infectious diseases like COVID-19 and influenza. Fundamental to our approach is to differentiate between chronological, biological and immune age, and to use existing large-scale population cohorts. The latter provide well-typed phenotypic data on individuals' health status over time, readouts of routine clinical biochemical biomarkers to determine biological age, and bio-banked plasma samples to deep phenotype humoral immune responses as biomarkers of immune age. The first phase of the program involves 1. the exploration of biological age, humoral biomarkers of immune age, and genetics in a large multigenerational cohort, and 2. the subsequent development of models of immunity in relation to health status in a second, prospective cohort of an aging population. In the second phase, vaccine responses and efficacy of licensed COVID-19 vaccines in the presence and absence of influenza-, pneumococcal- and pertussis vaccines routinely offered to elderly, will be studied in older aged participants of prospective population-based cohorts in different geographical locations who will be selected for representing distinct biological and immune ages. The HII research program is aimed at relating vaccine responsiveness to biological and immune age, and identifying aging-related pathways crucial to enhance vaccine effectiveness in aging populations.

Keywords: Aging-related diseases; Biological age; Immune aging; Vaccine responsiveness.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / immunology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 Vaccines / immunology*
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Humoral
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Program Development
  • Research Design
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • COVID-19 Vaccines