April 30, 2017

Research Roundup: Breaking down Zika and opportunities, challenges surrounding global immunization

Program Assistant
PATH/Aaron Joel Santos

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

Researchers in Brazil have discovered the structure of the protein responsible for replicating the Zika virus thousands of times in cells, causing the virus to break through the cell wall and infect the body. Through many months of collecting data and studying the origins of the virus, the researchers put together a three-dimensional model of the protein and published their findings in Nature Communications. Zika is a flavivirus and in the same genus as diseases like yellow fever, dengue, and hepatitis C. Because of the genetic similarity, researchers and scientists have found that sofosbovir, a commonly used drug to treat hepatitis C, is a good therapeutic option for those suffering from Zika. The unlocking of Zika’s genetic code will lead to the development of new solutions to the virus.

A newborn baby sleeps under a mosquito net. (Photo: PATH/Georgina Goodwin)

It recently became global news that RTS,S (trade name Mosquirix™), the candidate malaria vaccine furthest along in development, is beginning vaccine pilot programs in three chosen countries: Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. The vaccine, created through a partnership with PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative and GlaxoSmithKline, is given in four doses over a specific period of time. It is not yet known if tracking of these vaccine doses will be 100 percent. Any vaccine administered in multiple doses, whether for malaria or HPV, requires a lot more work in educating individuals about the need to return for all treatments necessary to ensure the vaccine’s success. UNICEF and members of the vaccine community will work with government authorities to ensure the supply chain delivers vaccines to children in need. If successful, the burden of malaria could decrease drastically. While this vaccine is promising to many individuals in these three countries, the search for a more perfect vaccine is high on the priority list for health researchers around the globe.

In order to increase global access to immunization, successful and smooth-moving supply chains are necessary. The problem? Immunization supply chains are complex and every part of the chain needs to be working perfectly to ensure access to the vaccines. Many members of the immunization community have neglected the supply chain facet of vaccine delivery, and as a result, these supply chains have suffered and grown obsolete. With these chains being out-of-date, many children remain unvaccinated from even the most common diseases. A special issue published in Vaccine highlights these issues and brings the need for supply chain renewal to the forefront of the conversation. But even after this publication, more has to be done to ensure all members of the vaccine community work together to guarantee access to vaccines is in reach for all.

Despite vaccine initiatives being stronger than ever, there is still a glaring gap in the number of children receiving basic vaccines. Currently, there are over 19 million children who are unvaccinated, leaving them susceptible to diseases that can be protected against. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control worked together to establish the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) aimed at closing the gap of vaccine inequality around the globe. GVAP has already seen many successes, including fostering a working relationship with government institutions to implement surveillance techniques to figure out what vaccines children need most in each country. Kenya and Nepal, for example, have initiatives through pediatricians to educate families about the importance of vaccines for children’s development and longevity of life. GVAP is in the forefront of bridging the gap of health inequity and bringing immunization to all.