National Immunization Awareness Month, sponsored every August by the National Public Health Information Coalition in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control, aims to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. However, to biopharmaceutical researchers, the day also represents something more: A moment to recognize the immense benefits provided by vaccines in the U.S. and around the world.
Vaccines, second only to clean drinking water in terms of public health benefit, are helping to prevent the spread of many infectious diseases and, in many parts of the globe, eliminating some of the most devastating conditions. Examples of vaccine successes are numerous and significant:
- Smallpox, at one point one of the deadliest diseases in existence, has been eradicated around the world as a result of vaccination.
- Globally, more than 7.1 million lives have been saved since 2000 as a result of the measles vaccine.
- In the United States, 16 diseases are now preventable as a result of childhood vaccines, resulting in an estimated $1.4 trillion in societal costs saved.
- The recent introduction of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine has changed the trajectory of cervical cancer, by preventing infection of the HPV strains most likely to cause cancers.
During a recent conversation led by The Atlantic, health officials, doctors and researchers alike stressed the value of vaccines in preventing the spread of illnesses and, in many places around the world, eliminating deadly infectious diseases.
Preventative vaccines help the body develop immunity to a disease by imitating an infection, teaching the immune system how to identify and target microbial invaders (including viruses and bacteria) without actually causing an infection. Over the last 35 years, this has helped contribute to a 19 percent decrease in deaths from infectious disease in the United States, according to research recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Notably, the study’s authors cited “better health care and preventive measures such as vaccines” as key factors in the declines.
Additionally, a new era of therapeutic vaccines is emerging, as researchers learn more about ways to harness the body’s own immune system in fighting disease. For example, recent studies are demonstrating early success in vaccines that could treat HIV, Alzheimer’s disease and various cancers.
What’s more, vaccines also impact our nation’s health systems by driving cost-savings. In the United States, 16 diseases are now preventable as a result of childhood vaccines, resulting in an estimated $1.4 trillion in societal costs saved. Vaccines have also helped to save an estimated $9.9 billion in direct health care costs
As our understanding of the science grows and we uncover the complex biological drivers of many diseases while regulatory requirements expand, the research and development process to develop medicines also grows more challenging. Innovative biopharmaceutical companies are working with stakeholders from across the research and development ecosystem to develop new ways of preventing and treating illnesses, with vaccines at the forefront.
As of October 2017, there are more than 260 vaccines in development by biopharmaceutical companies. We have already seen so much progress, but there is even more significant hope for the future, with the pipeline containing new vaccine technology that has the potential to prevent a wide range of diseases and conditions.