Vaccine successes and ambitions

“Designing Tomorrow’s Vaccines” is a fascinating assessment of the success of vaccines as well as a look into the what future vaccines may accomplish (NEJM 2013; 368: 551-60).

First, I like the quote from Thomas Jefferson noted in the article:

“I avail myself of this occasion of rendering you a portion of the tribute of gratitude due to you from the whole human family.  Medicine has never before produced any single improvement of such utility…mankind can never forget that you have lived. Future nations will know by history only that the loathsome small-pox has existed and by you has been extirpated.”  Letter to Edward Jenner (May 14, 1805).

Jefferson’s enthusiasm was not without merit.  “In the 20th century alone, smallpox claimed an estimated 375 million lives.”  Yet, “since 1978, not a single person has died from smallpox.” Unfortunately, at this time, every year “more than 1.5 million children (3 per minute) die from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Previous success in the U.S: Comparison of the estimated number of cases per year in the 20th century with the number of deaths in the year 2002 from the same diseases:

  • Poliomyelitis: 1.63 million vs 0
  • Diptheria: 17.6 million vs 0
  • Measles: 5.03 million vs 36
  • Pertusis: 1.47 million vs 6632
  • Rubella: 4.77 million vs 20
  • Smallpox: 4.81 million vs 0

Despite these advances, vaccines have “yet to realize their full potential.”  Effective vaccines are needed for malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis.  Vaccines for influenza which rely on 50-year-old technology need to be improved.

So how can this be achieved?

  • Improved knowledge of atomic structure/structural biology has provided new insights into neutralizing antibodies along with specific antibody reactions. This can counter immune evasion by targeting highly conserved regions
  • Millions of gene sequences encoding antibodies within a single individual can be analyzed to improve vaccine design
  • Genomewide sequencing of microbes has improved selection of vaccine targets
  • Improvements in delivery systems, like using viruslike particles or nanoparticles; alternatively, gene-based delivery of vaccines is feasible
  • Recombinant techniques has allowed a shift from egg-based methods

What is not on the horizon  — a vaccine for the half-truths that permeate the discussion.

Related posts:

3 thoughts on “Vaccine successes and ambitions

  1. My mother survived polio, so, I’m for vaccines, just safer ones, and maybe not so fast in the tiniest newborns and spaced out. My son, in his 20’s, has autism and grand mal seizures. When he was about two, he had alot of gastro-type problems. I won’t know in my lifetime if vaccines played a part in this tragedy, but I do know that drug companies are not held liable for vaccine injury cases. They are sent to vaccine court, where alot of money is being held, and not being paid out to anyone, because the vaccines are never the cause. I know there are great research people working to develop vaccines, and there are new ones on the horizon every day. And now, the flu vaccine is only 9% effective in seniors, but still has risks. The news is quick to point out that there is no relation between vaccines and autism, but I think for us parents, we are not buying it. The more they say it, the less I believe them. I know that we will care for our son as long as we can, and he has a perfect soul. There must be a reason for the epidemic that has caused such harm. Best wishes and God bless.

  2. Pingback: “Too many vaccines and autism” is debunked | gutsandgrowth

  3. Pingback: “Because It Doesn’t Just Happen to Other People” | gutsandgrowth

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