New vaccines on the horizon

In a report published in The Lancet, researchers say there is the potential to develop 20 new or improved vaccines over the next decade. They emphasize that funding is crucial - but so is trust and confidence in vaccines. It is said that AIDS and malaria vaccines as the most important areas for research. Authors further suggest that neglected tropical diseases, such as leprosy, should also be investigated.

The authors of the report further write, “We must also consider vaccines beyond classic infections, such as insulin-dependent diabetes, cancers and degenerative diseases.” They add, “We need to find the requisite funds for the research and development of about 20 improved or novel vaccines in the next decade or beyond. This call to action comes at a crucial time. In some communities, recent declines in vaccine uptake provide a stark reminder that public confidence and trust in immunization is fragile and requires attention.”

It was Professor Richard Moxon, from Oxford University who came up with the idea for the series of papers looking at the future of vaccine research. He said, “Considering the unambiguous and beneficial track record of immunisation, it is perhaps surprising that the public aren't always comfortable with it. It's complex. Perhaps one of the things that's most important is that vaccines are given to healthy people - often children.” He added on safety concerns, “Safety issues loom very large because there's very little awareness of many of the diseases that have been prevented by vaccines, such as polio and whooping cough.”

Professor Moxon said he believed an AIDS vaccine was still many years away, but there might be an effective malaria vaccine within five years. He urged developing countries to come up to take up the research and immunization programme responsibility. Authors write, “Most developing countries accord too low a priority to health in their budgets. They must be persuaded to take more of the burden themselves on behalf of their poorer citizens.”

Funding for vaccines in developing countries will be examined at a crucial meeting in London on Monday, when an effort is made to raise more than £2m for immunization programmes over the next four years.

Two studies in the journal Health Affairs looked at the impact of extending vaccinations so that the vast majority of children in 72 of the world's poorest countries would be immunized. The estimates are based on 90 per cent vaccination rates for pneumococcal pneumonia, diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, rotavirus, malaria, and the influenza Hib.

They estimated that such a major vaccination initiative would produce economic benefits of $231 billion over 10 years — the economic value of the lives saved — and would save a further $151 billion in treatment costs and lost productivity. Such a program would prevent 426 million cases of illness, the researchers said.

A third study — also published in Health Affairs — found that poor countries would need help to cover the cost of introducing new vaccines. “Without major assistance from international donors, the poorest countries will be hard-pressed to pay the costs to reach all of their children with life-saving vaccines,” said Helen Saxenian of the Washington-based Results for Development Institute and one of the study's authors.

This study was conducted by the donor-funded Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). Earlier this week, a number of major drug companies including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi-Aventis agreed to cut the prices they charge poor countries for some vaccines delivered through the GAVI program.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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