A major leap for vaccine technology
The COVID-19 pandemic had a paradoxical effect on global vaccine progress. On the one hand, the crisis saw the world falling behind on immunizations against diseases other than COVID-19 – so much so that “The Big Catch-Up” was the theme of this year’s World Immunization Week. On the other hand, the unprecedented levels of firepower aimed at developing appropriate vaccines to curb the pandemic slingshotted vaccine tech years ahead and into what analysts are calling its “golden era”. Since then, there have been some fascinating and fast-moving developments in the world of vaccines. In this article, we will explore four of the latest vaccine innovations which are expected to have a major impact on public health in the near future.
- Shelf-Stable Malaria Vaccines
For a century, researchers have been trying to find a viable vaccine for malaria. This year, two are showing major promise. The R21/Matrix-M and RTS,S vaccines are both showing efficacy levels of up to 80% in small children between the ages of 5 and 17 months, and up to 75% efficacy in adults – a huge improvement on the only vaccine currently approved for malaria, Mosquirix, which only delivers a 56% efficacy rate after four doses.
What’s more, both R21/Matrix-M and RTS,S are shelf-stable with a long shelf-life. Neither requires sub-zero temperatures for storage and transportation, and both are able to withstand temperatures of up to 104°F for up to two weeks – key features to overcome the infrastructure and distribution challenges common in more remote areas of Africa.
Ghana and Nigera have both approved the new vaccines – the first approvals in what’s expected to be a comprehensive roll-out.
- Microarray Patches
As the world’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic proved, vaccine accessibility is an urgent humanitarian concern. One of the technologies with the potential to revolutionize vaccine accessibility is the microarray patch. According to Birgitte Giersing of the World Health Organization’s Immunization Department, last-mile costs are responsible for more than half the cost of a single child’s vaccination. On top of this, the costs of transportation, appropriate storage, mixing and administration by a professional are prohibitive for many lower-income communities.
Microarray patches solve many of these problems, providing a cost-effective, simple and easy-to-distribute method of delivering vaccines to even the most remote areas. The small, coin-sized patches deliver dry vaccine via the skin painlessly, either through small needles on the patch or through a soluble formula that dissolves as the patch is held to the skin for a period of time. Microarray patches do not need to be kept at cold temperatures, do not require mixing and can be administered by anyone, removing the need for trained healthcare professionals to run vaccine administration programs.
Currently, there are microarray patch vaccines in development for measles and rubella.
- Personalized Cancer Vaccines
mRNA vaccines have been hailed as the next frontier for vaccine innovation. While researchers have been working on mRNA tech for decades, the pandemic brought about an estimated 15 years’ worth of progress in a matter of 12 months. One of the most exciting potentials unleashed by this wave of progress has been the possibility of personalized cancer vaccines. According to Dr. Paul Burton, Chief Medical Officer of Moderna, the firm hopes to offer “personalized cancer vaccines against multiple different tumor types to people around the world” by the end of the decade.
- Maternal Vaccination
Maternal vaccination is emerging as a viable way to tackle infant mortality and morbidity, particularly in addressing RSV, Group B strep, herpes simplex and cytomegalovirus, which are common risk factors for newborns. Pfizer is currently developing a groundbreaking vaccine against RSV in infants. Through passive immunization, antibodies are passed from the mother to the fetus, delivering a 70-80% efficacy for up to 6 months after birth.
The latest innovations, as they happen
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