Our speaker was Kent Kester who had a career as an Army Infectious Disease Specialist and now works for Sanofi Pasteur. He spoke of the value of vaccines noting that vaccines save an estimated 3 million lives every year. Vaccines and clean water have been the biggest contributors to global health. Progress has been substantial but 20% of the World’s children still do not have access to vaccines. Diseases such as measles, malaria, dengue, and diarrheal disease all have major impacts. Epidemics and outbreaks of influenza each season lead to 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide.
Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system of an individual to help avoid getting an infection or disease. Different types of vaccines have been developed including killed organisms, viral/bacterial proteins. Toxoids, and DNA/mRNA. The “easy” vaccines have already been made. Current vaccine targets are much more complicated. It can cost $500 million to $1 billion to produce a new vaccine and it could take 10 - 15 years. Even after a vaccine is determined to be safe and effective the job is far from over. The vaccine must be produced in tremendous quantities. Production facilities will likely have to be built. The vaccine will also need to be stored somewhere. It then needs to be distributed throughout the World.
Rotarians know this all too well through our polio eradication efforts. It is hard, but not impossible. There are many success stories including measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, and tetanus. Polio cases have been reduced by over 99% with less than 200 per year for the past five years. Unfortunately those cases are in Pakistan and Afghanistan where it is extremely dangerous for the Polio volunteers. Smallpox was eradicated by vaccination.
The Covid 19 vaccine trials are being fast tracked. There are currently at least 136 Covid vaccine candidates. Once it is available, the polio vaccination network may be a part of the distribution process. Malaria remains one of the top leading causes of pediatric death, especially in Africa. The use of drugs, bednets, spraying, and the elimination of standing water have led to significant decreases in cases. A partiallyprotective malaria vaccine has been developed by GSK, the US Army, BMGF, and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. This is an important example of a global health public-private partnership.