New horizons for vaccines

New vaccines hold potential to avert disease

Vaccination may be one of the most effective public health interventions of all time. Because of vaccines, smallpox has been eliminated globally; polio eradication is nearly complete; and in regions where people are routinely vaccinated, diseases such as measles, diphtheria, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) are no longer the threat they once were. Vaccination, it is estimated, prevents more than 2.5 million deaths each year.

Vaccines not only save lives—they contribute to incredible cost savings. For instance, in the United States alone, polio vaccination over the past 50 years has resulted in a net savings of $180 billion, funds that would have otherwise been spent to treat those suffering from polio. And for every dollar spent on measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, more than $21 is saved in direct medical costs.

The United States has long been a leader in supporting the development of lifesaving vaccines, contributing to such vaccine-related breakthroughs as the eradication of smallpox and a 74 percent drop in measles deaths worldwide. More recently, the United States contributed to the development of the MenAfriVac™ meningitis vaccine, which is already changing public health in Africa since its launch in 2010. MenAfriVac™ is expected to prevent 437,000 cases of meningitis over the next 10 years, saving 43,500 lives and averting 105,000 disabilities. Estimates predict that, in all, the introduction of the MenAfriVac™ meningitis vaccine will save about $570 million in the next decade.

A need for new vaccines

While the history of vaccines is studded with victories, there are still many diseases for which vaccines have not been developed or are not widely available. Some of them are well known: malaria, pandemic influenza, and HIV/AIDS. Other diseases are less familiar but potentially just as deadly, especially in the developing world. Diarrheal disease, for example, kills approximately 1.8 million children worldwide each year. Pneumonia kills two million and is the leading cause of death in children younger than five years in the developing world.

Recently, however, a number of vaccines have begun moving from the laboratory toward the health clinic. For example, results to date from ongoing, late-stage testing of the RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate showed that the vaccine reduced episodes of malaria by about half in children ages 5 to 17 months, and by one-third in infants ages 6 to 12 weeks, when compared to children who were not vaccinated using RTS,S. Modeling indicates that a vaccine with these levels of efficacy could have a significant public health impact, preventing hundreds of millions of malaria cases over a 10-year period. New discoveries in HIV/AIDS science are contributing to efforts to create a vaccine against the disease, while the number of new tuberculosis vaccines in clinical trials has grown from zero to more than a dozen. Clinical trials are also underway to develop new and improved vaccines against childhood killers such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

For more information on the above data, see:

World Health Organization. Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI).

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How vaccines prevent disease.

PATH. Developing New Vaccines Against Diarrheal Disease.

PATH. Developing New Vaccines Against Pneumonia.

PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. First results from ongoing Phase III trial show malaria vaccine candidate, RTS,S reduces the risk of malaria by half in African children aged 5 to 17 months.

International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. Impact Modeling.

Global Health Technologies Coalition and Policy Cures. Saving Lives and Creating Impact: Why investing in global health research works.

Aeras. The need for new TB vaccines.

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