New Technologies Promise More Effective Vaccines, Experts Say
Washington, April 29, 2004 (PAHO)—A variety of new technologies driving vaccine research promise more effective and more clearly targeted vaccines, “but the constant evolution of microbes can only be combated by more biomedical research,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“To combat both new and old diseases, we must rely on research to make new, safer and better vaccines for HIV/AIDS, smallpox, anthrax, SARS, and others,” Fauci said today in a conference at the National Press Club organized by the Pan American Health Organization PAHO). “Getting these vaccines to people who need them is the most important thing,” he added.
Dr. D.A. Henderson, who led the global smallpox eradication program and founded the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies, said, “Clearly, vaccines are a principal weapon in public health and it’s valid to have a great emphasis on vaccine research, but we need much more funding for research.”
The “cataclysmic September 11 attack and the anthrax events just after raised awareness of bioterror and got people to ask what do we have and what can we get. The answer is that vaccines are a major weapon against bioterrorism and we need new vaccines and more research,” Henderson said.
Henderson and Fauci both authored chapters of a new book published by PAHO, “Vaccines: Preventing Disease and Protecting Health,” which was edited by Dr. Ciro de Quadros, head of international programs at the Sabin Vaccine Institute and former director of PAHO’s Division of Vaccines and Immunization.
De Quadros, speaking at the press club event, said, “The good news is that the tremendous revolution in biotechnology will give us several new vaccines, including vaccines for diseases that we thought were chronic. But the challenge is how to move these vaccines from the bench to the bush.”
Other challenges include maintaining political will, communicating with consumers to show the benefits of vaccines, and making sure people know after September 11th that vaccines have become an important tool in the fight against bioterrorism, de Quadros added
PAHO’s Assistant Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, said “The Expanded Program on Immunization is one of the most significant achievements of this century, and the role of vaccines will be magnified in the 21st Century” She noted that early data from this week’s Vaccination Week in the Americas effort indicate that the target of vaccinating 40 million persons “will be achieved, with the active participation of Presidents, First Ladies, and many others, especially in important border areas.”
Henderson said public health achievements due to vaccines have been dramatic, with smallpox and polio eradicated measles at an all-time low, and low numbers of cases of other diseases preventable by vaccines, at least in the Americas.
But, Henderson recalled, 34 years ago when smallpox eradication was starting, “We found that smallpox was the only vaccine being used, There was no public health vaccinations against polio, measles or other diseases, and we created the concept of an expanded immunization program in a meeting at the Pan American Health Organization”
By 1990, Henderson said, “We had 80 percent of the children in the world receiving vaccines and this is truly remarkable.”
Dr. Peter Hotez, who chairs George Washington University’s microbiology and tropical medicine department, said, “Twenty-five years into the genetic engineering revolution, major advances have not panned out yet. Only a Hepatitis B vaccine has been developed so far, but with more funding we have hopes for new vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis, hookworm, and others.”
One major problem, Hotez said, is that “The vaccine industry is not healthy. Low profits have dropped the number of manufacturers from 20 to only 4 in the U.S. and Europe. We’ve begun seeing shortages of vaccines and this is a signal that there’s something very wrong.”
PAHO was established in 1902 and works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO). PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.