Inflammation and stories on vaccines

Vaccine Hesitancy in Developing CountriesVaccine hesitancy, the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines, has been around since the invention of the vaccine. Recently, there has been an increase in vaccine hesitancy in developing countries due to safety concerns and long-term effects. With this skepticism, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases that were once thought mostly eradicated such as measles, pertussis and diphtheria, have increased in frequency around the world.

This year, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health. Vaccines remain the safest and most cost-effective ways of preventing diseases. Currently, vaccines save between two and three million lives a year.

Furthermore, if coverage improves, vaccines can save an additional 1.5 million lives per year. The reasons for vaccine hesitancy are complex, but a vaccine advisory group identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence as some of the root causes. With these factors identified, if now becomes a question of how to fight these causes of vaccine hesitancy in developing countries.

Complacency

Some health experts have theorized that vaccine skepticism stems from the fact that vaccines are so effective that parents no longer remember or fear vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and polio. Instead, they may focus their anxieties on the safety of vaccines, effects or the number and timing of injections.

Without a proper understanding of the devastating effects of these diseases, parents have less of a motivation to vaccinate. EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukatis said at an international health conference, “We have become victims of our own success.”

Convenience

Vaccine hesitancy in developing countries is often bolstered by the need for medical infrastructure. Inadequacy and the inequities in health systems like poverty, the disparity in infant mortality and life expectancy and a need for trained providers damages community trust.

To combat this, many countries have implemented mandatory vaccinations in schools, with mixed results. In India, for example, during their measles and rubella vaccination campaign, parents objected to their children being vaccinated without their consent, stalling the campaign in court.

Rwanda, on the other hand, was successful in its HPV vaccination campaign by coupling it with an information campaign. The campaign targeted parents and explained the need for this vaccine.

Confidence

Much of the anti-vaxxer movement is built in misinformation. Vaccine hesitancy in developing countries often stems from rumors about vaccines. For instance, that the polio and HPV vaccines caused infertility and impotency. The movement stems from general concerns about the safety of vaccines.

Health workers, especially those operating in the communities, are the parents’ most trusted health advisors and act as the biggest influencer of vaccination decisions. Because of their position, they must be supported so that they may provide parents with credible information. The most effective campaigns to fight vaccine hesitancy in developing countries are the ones that tailor to the community. Healthcare workers in the community are vital for implementing these campaigns.

In Rwanda, for example, healthcare workers went door to door to explain the benefits of the HPV vaccine. They focused on the fact that the vaccination is meant to prevent cancer. The workers brought diagrams of the female reproductive system. They also dispelled rumors by explaining that cervical cancer is far more likely to cause infertility than vaccines. Because the campaigned was tailored to the community, it was met with a lot of success.

Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy

While there is an increase in vaccine hesitancy in developing countries and around the world, immunization campaigns are experiencing successes. Transmission of wild poliovirus, for example, may stop in Afghanistan and Pakistan this year. Additionally, cervical cancer may be eliminated in 181 countries by the end of the century.

To keep this up, health officials have to be proactive in fighting vaccine hesitancy in developing countries by fighting complacency, making access to healthcare more convenient and building confidence by creating programs tailored to the community.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Vaccines in Developing Countries “Thanks to vaccines, more children are now living to see their fifth birthday than at any point in history.” Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, said.

While this is an inspiring fact, the truth is that immunization rates in some developing countries are becoming stagnant.

The Plateau of Immunization Rates

The immunization rates of the vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) usually reflect the quality of the overall immunization coverage within a nation. In the last three years, the immunization rate for the third dose of DTP in Chad has remained at 55 percent. The immunization rate for DTP in Somalia has been about the same since 2009. Guinea, whose DTP immunization rates used to be around 70-80 percent 10 years ago, now has had a rate of 63 percent for the last four years.

This data is somewhat shocking, considering a global effort to prioritize vaccines began in 2000. The same year, Gavi, a global Vaccine Alliance, was created with the help of a $750 million donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 2011, Gavi has surpassed its own goals of decreasing child mortality, averting future deaths and increasing child immunization in the more than 60 countries that are Gavi-supported. In just five years, Gavi was able to provide vaccines to 34 million more children than what was anticipated, and the group began administering vaccines for pneumococcal and rotavirus one year ahead of schedule.

Maintaining the Vaccine Schedule

Nonetheless, groups like Gavi struggle to keep immunization active in developing countries after the child is no longer an infant. For example, the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) is typically administered in two doses within 1-2 years for children above the age of nine. HPV can cause cancer, especially in those with weak immune systems, so it is important to time the vaccine administration effectively in order to be nearly 100 percent protected. Since there is no health plan that puts emphasis on older children, HPV becomes more of a threat in countries that do not enforce the strict vaccine schedule.

The World Health Organization has a plan to fix this. The Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) is set to address health program expansion to include services beyond infancy by 2020. Ministers of Health from 194 countries agreed to support the GVAP, which includes nation-specific health program monitoring and strengthened leadership.

Negative Attitudes About Vaccines

Despite intervention from non-governmental groups, the plateau of immunization rates still exists. This may be due to negative attitudes towards vaccines in developing countries. The attitudes stem from the idea that vaccines are harmful or that the health workers are ingenuine. Citizens of three Nigeran states believed that the administration of the polio vaccine would spread AIDS in 2003, and in India, people believed that vaccines were a Western plot to instigate an undercover method of family planning to threaten Muslims. Researchers cite that a way to eliminate this anxiety is to take into account sociocultural behavior when implementing vaccine programs and to strengthen communication and advocacy in order to increase participation.

While negative attitudes towards vaccines contribute to plateauing immunization rates, the expensive price of vaccines may also be a contributing factor. In 2001, six vaccines from the World Health Organization cost less than $1. Now, 12 vaccines from the WHO cost up to $45.59. This can obtaining a vaccine for someone living in Madagascar extremely difficult – the monthly salary in Madagascar is $33.

Immunizations Eradicate Disease

By increasing immunization rates, diseases can begin to disappear. In the U.S., immunization rates in 2000 were at 91 percent for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, and the Center for Disease Control declared measles to be officially eradicated. Since then, diagnoses of measles have increased slightly among populations that are unvaccinated.

Despite these few diagnoses, the majority of the U.S. will never come in contact with measles. Dr. Jean Campaiola, hospital psychiatrist, describes this result as “herd immunity.” Herd immunity occurs when a certain percentage of the population receives the vaccine for a particular disease. For some diseases like measles, the percentage is at least 90-95, but for polio, the percentage is 80-85. This means that 20 percent of people could deny receiving the polio vaccine and still be protected from the disease because the remaining 80 percent were vaccinated.

“If this occurs rarely in a population, it’s not a big deal, but if it becomes more common, then previously eradicated diseases could make their way back into the general population,” says Dr. Campaiola. She said fears that the anti-vaccine attitude in the U.S. could cause previously eradicated diseases to re-emerge.

By administering more vaccines in developing countries, an entire community can be protected by herd immunity. Those most vulnerable to diseases (infants and the elderly) can be immune to certain diseases if more people around them receive vaccines.

In third world countries, governments spend $29 for each person’s health. In the U.S., the government spends $4,499. There is a clear need for vaccines in developing countries around the world, including a larger-scale project to improve coverage. Gavi’s next step in revolutionizing immunization is a five-year program to introduce sustainable health programs in low-income countries and to increase equitable use of vaccines. The U.S. has the power to spread the good message of vaccines, and someday, we can eradicate most major diseases all around the world.

– Katherine Desrosiers
Photo: Wikimedia

Frost Season in PeruWhile Peru is known for having a pleasant climate in most regions, this isn’t always the case all year round. In the winter months of the frost season in Peru, a wave of freezing weather strikes the communities in many areas of the Andean region.

These freezing temperatures are not your average winter. In 2010, freezing weather in the Andean South went below -20 Celcius, causing pneumonia and hundreds of deaths — with children being the most impacted demographic. In 2017, a wave of freeze killed around 180,000 alpacas on the farthest areas of Ayacucho, where the people heavily depended on the breeding of alpacas for sustenance. Since the affected regions are in extreme poverty, the people living there do not have enough resources to prevent tragedies such as the ones mentioned above.

Each frost season in Peru brings a new wave of adversity and problems, and unfortunately, it is the most vulnerable people that are the most affected by the weather. However, help comes even during the most troubled times. Here are three initiatives that have helped those affected by frost season in Peru.

3 Initiatives To Helping Those Affected by Frost Season in Peru

  1. Demos Calor a Los Hermanos de Puno- After the southern Andean regions were in a state of emergency in 2010, the Peruvian Radio Program and Solaris Peru Association joined forces to create these campaigns. Their main objective was to collect enough warm clothing and blankets for children between the ages of 1 to 5. The campaign was successful; by the end of 2011, it delivered more than 3.5 tons of apparel and other necessities to the victims.
  2. Peru Frost and Friaje Mitigation Plan- In 2017, with a new frost season approaching, ex-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski began the Peru Frost and Friaje Mitigation Plan. Their main objective was to take the necessary steps to prevent the fatal damage caused by the frost on the highland regions. The program spent around $30 million to repair damaged infrastructure. The benefits did not only include monetary help but also the delivery of blankets, prefabricated classrooms and provide essential pneumonia vaccines. Small children and the elderly are the most affected during the frost season, so the delivery of pneumonia vaccines saved their lives
  3. Abrigando Esperanzas – The Oli Foundation- The Oli Foundation helps and assists Peru’s most vulnerable sectors. Beginning in 2011, the foundation has successfully managed several initiatives. “Abrigando Esperazas” specifically focused on the victims of the frost season. Their principal goal was the collection of warm blankets and other first-aid necessities and delivering them to the affected zones of the Peruvian Andes in Arequipa, Cerro de Pasco, Cusco, Puno and Tacna. In June 2019, their campaign “Contra el Frio por Los Nuestros,” has the main goal of building 20 warm safehouses in the town of Kusamayo, Puno. These safehouses will help keep vulnerable populations warm during the challenging frost season.

Peruvian frost season is not an easy season to overcome. Luckily there is even more being done to fight against the hardships of the winter. This year, for example, a new type of potato was developed, called Wiñay, that can tolerate freezing temperatures and maintain its nutritional value, making it possible for farmers to produce crops even then the ground is covered in snow. Through the efforts of organizations like the three mentioned above, Peruvians are being given the resources they need to survive and thrive throughout the frost season in Peru.

– Adriana Ruiz
Photo: Flickr

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the CongoIn August of 2018 the Democratic Republic of Congo declared an Ebola outbreak. The first case of the virus erupted in the city of Goma, located on the border of Rwanda. As the tenth Ebola outbreak in Congo within 40 years, the virus became a public health concern for the over 1 million people that call Goma home. Goma also acts as a popular transit hub for many people crossing the border into Rwanda putting the population at a heightened risk for the disease to spread. The International Health Regulations Emergency Committee has met four times following this initial Ebola case.

  1. A Widespread Disease: Congo’s ongoing Ebola outbreak is now the world’s second-largest. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), the virus has infected 2,512 people and killed 1,676. The largest Ebola outbreak on record took place in West Africa killing more than 11,300 people. WHO continues its efforts to stop the spread of the disease in Congo with its team of medical specialists. In the worst cases, death and uncontrollable bleeding have resulted from the viral hemorrhagic fevers of the disease.
  2. A Global Issue: On July 17, 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in Congo a global health emergency. Following the first case of Ebola, intensive training for the prevention and control of the virus heightened for more than six months. News of a female traveller from Beni that contracted the virus, and then visited Uganda sparked growing concern in Uganda and Congo. Between June and July of 2019 an estimated 245 confirmed cases of Ebola were reported in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces of Congo. WHO makes the continuous effort to monitor the cases of those infected, as well as travel and trade measures in relation to the virus.
  3. Dangerous Territory: The Ebola response teams in the Democratic Republic of Congo face violent attacks. David Gressley, the United Nations’ secretary-general, became the deputy of the U.N. missions in Congo and witnessed it firsthand. Gressley requested a force of peacekeepers along with the health officials to assist him amid the attacks. The violent attacks often hinder the Ebola responders from treating people with the virus, and still no one knows the reasoning or people behind the attacks. The U.N. estimates that due to the attacks about 1,200 have been shot or slashed to death with machetes. One popular theory points to Congolese politicians orchestrating the attacks in order to undermine political rivals. On the other hand, the Congolese government blames the Mai Mai militia. Rumors continue to swirl that the U.N. responders fail to treat Ebola patients, and intentionally spread the virus which makes them even more susceptible to these attacks.
  4. Catching Ebola: Common diseases such as measles and malaria share initial symptoms of Ebola. Many medical specialists in Congo believe that to put a stop to this epidemic they first must isolate the disease. Most Ebola patients receive a diagnosis too late, and go through multiple health facilities before getting treatment. Response teams understand that controlling the transmission of Ebola, and catching the disease in its early stages has the potential to save an entire community.
  5. The Ebola Vaccination: More than 111,000 people have received the Ebola vaccination. Developed by Canadian scientists, the Ebola vaccine (also known as the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine) consists of an animal virus that can wear a non-lethal Ebola virus protein, which results in the human immune system developing a pre-emotive defense to the disease. Health care professionals, and family members of Ebola patients are the majority of those vaccinated. Health care responders in Congo ensure that all the contacts of Ebola patients receive a vaccine to stop the epidemic. Reports show no deaths from individuals that developed Ebola symptoms more than 10 days after receiving the vaccination.
  6. Promoting a Disease-Free Environment: Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) promotes healthcare and community engagement in Congo. This organization sends teams to determine and assist the medical needs of populations in crisis with exclusion from healthcare. Among the Ebola outbreak in Congo, MSF continues to provide free healthcare for non-Ebola needs, such as malaria and urinary tract infections. First starting in the city Goma, the MSF has now shifted aid to the Ituri province to limit infections with sanitation activities, and provide access to clean water.

These six facts about the Ebola outbreak in Congo demonstrate global organization’s enthusiasm to assemble in times of crisis. Countless organizations continue to lend support to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in due time the country will be at its best with a healthy population.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Flickr

RTS,S VaccineA new vaccine known as the RTS,S vaccine is currently being piloted in the African nations of Ghana, Malawi and Kenya.  The RTS,S vaccine has been in development for over 32 years. It is the first malaria vaccine that has been shown to provide young children with partial protection from malaria.

What is Malaria?

Every single year, the malaria virus kills one million people around the world. It is estimated that 300-600 million people suffer from malaria every year. Additionally, 90 percent of malaria cases occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of malaria’s victims are children under the age of five.

According to UNICEF, Malaria kills one child every thirty seconds, which is about 3,000 children every single day. Malaria hinders children’s social development and schooling. Furthermore, malaria is a major cause of poverty. For example, the cost of malaria control and treatment actually slows economic development in Africa by 1.3 percent.

RTS,S Malaria Vaccine Pilots

In clinical trials, the RTS,S vaccine was found to prevent about 4 out of 10 malaria cases. Additionally, it proved to prevent 3 in 10 cases of severe, life-threatening malaria. The malaria vaccine has also been shown to reduce severe malaria anemia by 60 percent. Severe malaria anemia is the most prevalent reason that children die from malaria.

The organizations of Unitaid, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria funded and supported these pilots.

Impact

Currently, an estimated 360,000 children are expected to receive the RTS,S vaccine through immunization programs in certain areas of Malawi, Ghana and Kenya. However, the main weakness of the immunization programs is in how they store and transport the vaccines. The effectiveness of a vaccine is dependent on whether it is in a properly-functioning cold chain. This refers to a system of transporting and storing vaccines at the proper temperatures from when they are manufactured to when they are used.

To ensure that vaccines properly fulfill their duty of vaccinating children from malaria, there needs to be an increased focus on the protection and storage of these vaccines in their proper cold chains. It is vital to invest in proper storage equipment and maintenance of that storage equipment. This equipment will retain the vaccine’s efficacy. It is also crucial to invest in roads and infrastructure so the vaccines can be properly transported to those in need.

Innovation

A technological innovation that has changed and improved the transportation of malaria vaccines is the use of drones. The Rwandan tech firm Zipline has already launched drones that are used to transport medication, vaccines, blood and other essential health care items.

Starting out in Rwanda, the firm has also expanded its lifesaving services into Ghana. The drones fly at 100 kilometers and are able to make deliveries in 30 minutes that otherwise could take five hours by car. The drones also are able to fly through any type of terrain. Therefore, they can easily reach remote villages without requiring any sort of local infrastructure at the scene. ZipLine is able to make up to 500 delivers a day. Thanks to its services, ZipLine has provided 13 million people instant access to urgent, life-saving treatments.

The RTS,S vaccine is an effective vaccine that is vital in protecting young children from malaria. By drastically reducing cases of severe malaria anemia, the RTS,S vaccine is saving lives. To continue saving lives and to further build the efficacy of the vaccine, it is crucial to focus on investing in the proper infrastructure for storage and transportation of the vaccine.

– Nicholas Bykov
Photo: Flickr

drones can save livesThird-world development programs use drones to advance projects more quickly and with fewer expenses. Pilots can volunteer for projects that provide humanitarian aid to remote areas, such as delivering medicine, blood, specimens for lab testing, vaccines and anti-venom. A skilled drone pilot can provide support across the globe to help people in need. Drone pilots can support relief efforts after major natural disasters, and civilian drone pilots (who have the proper authorization) can work with officials in search and rescue missions, provide aerial photography data to help find lost persons, map out disaster areas and help assess damage to an area. Here’s how a drone pilot can use their skills to help save lives around the world.

Four Ways Drone Pilots Can Save Lives

  1. Volunteer Organizations: One of the most well-established humanitarian drone pilot associations is the UAV Aviators Organization founded by Dr. Patrick Meier. This group has more than 3,300 members worldwide and represents 120 countries. Of those members, more than 600 are drone pilots. A drone pilot can find out about volunteer opportunities by registering with the Humanitarian UAV Network and agreeing to the UAV Humanitarian Code of Conduct. There is no cost to join this association. Another volunteer organization is S.W.A.R.M. More than 7,500 SAR pilots volunteer with this organization, serving more than 40 countries. It has an active Facebook group with more than 4,400 members. 
  2. Third-World Development Projects: The World Bank reports there are many benefits when using drones for development projects in third-world nations. Some benefits include easier planning, faster project implementation, less risk to local workers and communities, lower operational costs and surveying before access infrastructure is built in remote areas. The World Bank seeks drone pilots as volunteers and interns for drone flying projects to work in land use administration, forest management, coastal zone protection and environmental risk assessment. Drone pilots can help with medical deliveries, firefighting, contamination sensing and weather prediction. They can also help with guarding endangered animals and natural resource conservation.In 2016, the World Bank executed a drone project to conduct mapping in Kosovo. This mapping occurred after the Balkan wars ended in the late 1990s. The $13.86 million Real Estate and Cadastre Project was operated by the Global Land and Geospatial Unit of the World Bank. Women from Kosovo, who lost their husbands and sons in the wars, worked alone or with other women to rebuild their homes. The wars made it impossible to prove the land was theirs because all the documentation was lost. Without the ability to prove ownership, they could not work the farmland or get loans from the bank. These women had no ability to pay for traditional surveyors. Surveying the land through the use of drones helped them register their rightful ownership to their family’s land.
  3. Disaster Relief With Search and Rescue: Coordinated efforts with local authorities create the most beneficial effects. It is important for pilots to avoid any unintentional consequences of drone deployments in disaster zones, which might interfere with official rescue and relief efforts. Following Typhoon Yolanda, which hit the Philippines in 2013, four key drones were launched by different local and international groups to support the relief efforts. They were used to discover safe and effective areas for NGOs to set up camp, identify passable roads, assess the damage from the storm surge and flooding and determine which villages were most affected by the typhoon. Drone surveillance determined some of the most affected areas, and the data was given to different humanitarian organizations to aid the relief efforts. In Dulag, aerial imagery was used to determine which areas had the greatest need for new shelters. This allowed Medair, a Swiss humanitarian organization, to identify how much material was needed and better allocate their resources to help people as quickly as possible.
  4. Vaccine and Medical Supplies Delivery: In December 2018, a drone delivery brought a life-saving vaccine to a remote part of the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific near Australia. With funding for the humanitarian project supported by UNICEF and the government of Australia, volunteers working with a company called Swoop Aero were able to deliver vaccines through 25 miles of rough mountainous terrain. Drone use helped the vaccines maintain the proper temperature due to the speed available through drone transport and delivered them and other critical medical supplies to remote areas.In Africa, UNICEF funds a company called Zipline. The staff of volunteers delivers vaccines and other medical supplies by using drones. The deliveries have been made to remote villages in the countries of Rwanda and Ghana since 2016. UNICEF sponsors other projects of a similar kind in Malawi and Papua New Guinea. It may take days to reach these remote villages by car or on foot. A drone can fly to them in minutes and land in a small jungle clearing a plane or helicopter could not use. UNICEF also sponsors programs that use drones to transport specimens from remote locations back to laboratories for testing. This helps health care practitioners make the correct diagnosis and administer life-saving treatment to patients quickly.

Drone pilots have plenty of ways to use their skills to help fight poverty and get involved in global relief efforts. Pilots are encouraged to volunteer to help out locally and/or internationally. As Dr. Peter Meir says, “The best use of a drone is to save a life.”

Mark Sheehan
Photo: Unsplash

Drone Delivery Service in Ghana
After Zipline,  a California-based automated logistics company launched its service in Rwanda three years ago, it announced on April 24, 2019 that it would expand its operations to Ghana. Since Zipline has planned to make 600 drone flights a day and deliver more than 170 vaccines, blood products and other life-saving medications to 2,500 facilities, it expects to reach 12 million people. Because this operation is so immense, Zipline is describing its drone delivery service in Ghana as the largest drone delivery service in history.

The Background of Zipline

Zipline’s mission is to provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies with small drone aircraft. To accomplish this mission in countries with citizens who struggle to access the medical supplies they need, Zipline operates autonomous systems for delivering lifesaving medicine to the world’s most inaccessible regions.

Zipline began its first drone service in Africa in the country of Rwanda. This service, which began in 2016, provided life-saving medical supplies to Rwandan citizens in remote areas in minutes. Ever since 2016, Zipline has refined this drone delivery system and the Rwandan government has expanded it across the country. Currently, Zipline has made over 13,000 deliveries outside Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. A third of these deliveries have been in emergencies in which someone’s life was on the line.

Zipline in Ghana

The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, launched the world’s largest medical drone delivery service during an inaugural ceremony in the city of Omenako, which is also one of the four Zipline drone distribution centers in Ghana. This drone delivery service in Ghana operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each center is equipped with 30 drones and delivers to 2,500 facilities, serving 12 million people across the country. Some of the treatments that Zipline provides to Ghanaians in remote areas are vaccines for polio, tetanus and diptheria, and the World Health Organization’s Expanded Project on Immunization provides these. Health workers can place an order by text message and they can receive delivery of these and other treatments by parachute within 30 minutes.

The drone network will integrate into Ghana’s national health care supply chain. The plan is to prevent vaccine stockouts in health facilities and during national immunization campaigns. Zipline will manage the logistics of this network through its hardware and software systems in each of the four distribution centers, and it will make deliveries to hospitals and health clinics. In collaboration with Zipline and in consultation with Gavi, UPS will provide consultancy services and technical guidance when necessary.

Looking Ahead

Many expect that the commercial partnerships Zipline has with Ghana and Rwanda will save tens of thousands of lives over the next several years. Ghana will be the base for training future flight operators who will join Zipline as it expands its operations to countries beyond Ghana and Rwanda. Officials from Senegal and Nigeria plan to launch a similar service in their own countries. Throughout this year, Zipline is working hard to expand its drone delivery service to developed and developing countries across Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Americas. Zipline’s drone delivery service in Ghana is another innovative step the world is making to liberate men, women and children from the effects of poverty throughout the world.

– Jacob Stubbs
Photo: Wikipedia

mRNA VaccinesVaccinations have been one of the most successful disease prevention tools the world has ever seen to date; the rise of vaccinations and a decrease in disease mortality go hand in hand. The World Health Organization is cited stating that vaccinations prevent about six million deaths worldwide every year. That number could increase if a new type of vaccine, an mRNA vaccine, proves effective.

Some of the more impoverished nations of the world encounter a variety of setbacks when trying to implement vaccinations on a wide scale. Some populations simply cannot afford vaccines while others living in rural areas may not have access or transportation to reach a medical facility. Further, others still may live in unsanitary environments that allow pathogens to easily thrive and spread throughout their communities. Fortunately, scientists in Germany have been testing mRNA vaccines that could have the possibility of eliminating some of these issues.

Testing mRNA Vaccines

Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with CureVac and BioNTech (two biotechnology corporations) to experiment with new ways to make vaccines. These new vaccines utilize the body’s naturally administered mRNA, which are the molecules that turn genetic information into proteins. In 2018, the companies found positive results while testing these vaccines on both small and large animals.

Later that year, mRNA vaccines designed to combat rabies began phase I of their testing on human participants. The testing took place in Germany and involved 130 participants who had not yet received a rabies vaccine in their lifetime. Then the results of the mRNA vaccine were compared with the results of another treatment.

“The first study participant enrolled in this rabies clinical trial is a significant milestone for CureVac, and allows the company to demonstrate its ability to trigger an immune response in vaccine naïve populations, which is different from vaccines just boosting an already existing immune response such as a flu vaccination,” explained Dan Menichella, CureVac’s CEO.

Implications of mRNA Vaccines

Though the study is not expected to be fully completed until 2021, researchers are finding that mRNA vaccines may be potentially more durable than standard versions of preventative vaccines.

If that is proven to be the case, the implications of how these new vaccines could help the world’s poor are huge. The mRNA vaccines would be able to be developed quickly—quickly enough, it is speculated, to respond to grave infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola. They would also be considerably cheaper to manufacture. And while most vaccination plants cannot be renovated or repurposed to produce other vaccines, only one mRNA vaccine plant could create multiple vaccines that target different diseases.

While mRNA vaccines still have a long way to go in the way of human testing and production, they seem to be off to a good start. It may one day completely revolutionize the way developing countries—or any country, for that matter—vaccinate. And although the medical field is a complicated one, one thing is for certain: CureVac and BioNTech are companies everyone should keep their eyes on for future breakthroughs.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

Poor Countries Fail to Administer VaccinesOver the years, immunizations have prevented large numbers of infectious diseases from spreading worldwide. Between 2 and 3 million deaths are prevented each year in all age groups due to these vaccines. Expanding access to immunization has become a new United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal. Currently, 85 percent of the globe has vaccination coverage. In total, these efforts have drastically impacted the world over the last few years. However, there is still a major struggle to reach full coverage in certain regions. Here are three reasons why poor countries fail to administer vaccines.

Three Reasons Why Poor Countries Fail to Administer Vaccines

  1. Vaccines are expensive and difficult to spread across certain regions.
    In 2017, roughly 19.9 million infants globally did not receive a DTP vaccination. This vaccination helps prevent children from getting diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis if a child receives roughly five doses over the course of their life. However, poorer nations have difficulty providing clinics and the means of offering repeated vaccinations.

    People living in rural areas must travel for hours to urban cities to receive treatments. In addition, transporting these goods to rural regions is tough because the hot temperatures can kill the immunity components of the vaccines. Shortages in supplies and lack of trained professionals also hinder the process. This heavily contributes to why poor nations fail to administer vaccines to large amounts of people.

    On top of these issues, the costs of vaccinating a single child increased from $10 to roughly $42 since 2000. However, these heavy costs do not heavily burden extremely poor countries because the vaccine alliance, Gavi, funds them. Gavi encompasses many organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, The World Bank and others. This alliance has allowed the economic burden to lift for roughly 70 countries, and it is actively seeking ways to overcome the geographical obstacles in these regions.

  2. Many are hesitant to vaccinate due to a lack of trust in immunization.
    According to the WHO, vaccine hesitancy is the refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines. Lack of trust in immunization is a major reason why people in poorer nations face this issue. Many people fear the side effects and potential dangers of immunization, so they choose not to vaccinate their children. Another reason for this hesitancy revolves around cultural differences. Primarily Western nations have introduced these vaccinations and citizens have difficulties accepting them into their society.

    An example of this is the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s recent Ebola outbreak. For the past few months, a large percentage of Congolese citizens refused to take the life-saving vaccination. These people do not trust the medical system and the government that allowed for a different country to intervene in its lifestyle. Their exposure to the disease has meant that other communities isolate and neglect them, which means they are having a hard time letting outsiders into their homes, even if intentions are good. Some citizens even attacked treatment centers in Katwa and Butembo in February 2019 to make a statement.

    Health officials in the DRC, as well as other countries, are making efforts to interact more with the communities during the vaccination process. A major step is finding ways to educate people on these medicines while respecting the cultures that they are entering. Recent campaigns such as the WHO World Immunization Week 2019 have made efforts to demonstrate the value of vaccines and immunization to start this process.

  3. Conflict and natural disasters prevent access to health care.
    War-torn countries are some of the most difficult places to administer vaccinations. Hospitals and clinics can become damaged and make it harder for people to receive the treatment they need. The Syrian War is an example of this. Before the war began, child vaccination coverage against DTP was 89 percent. However, in 2016, the number dropped to 61 percent as children received less than the three recommended doses of the vaccine. Syria and other countries at the bottom of the WHO’s vaccination coverage list were experiencing a civil war or conflict in their country.

    In addition to wars, natural disasters also hinder the vaccination process with widespread destruction. In Mozambique, a deadly hurricane swept through the country in March 2019. Not only did the storm destroy hospitals and clinics, but it also made reaching citizens living in rural areas with life-saving medication difficult. Natural disasters generally exacerbate issues that many countries already face, making it more difficult for health care officials to work until recovery ends.

    In recent years, Gavi has funded initiatives to help administer vaccines in countries facing these issues. Gavi offered to purchase vaccinations and other equipment to assist vaccinating millions of children exposed to preventable diseases in Syria. Also, the organization funded an influx of oral cholera vaccinations in 2017 to Sierra Leone after flooding and landslides.

Overall, there are many reasons why poor countries fail to administer vaccines to their citizens, but there are even more efforts going on today to overcome these obstacles. With the efforts of many health care organizations, the path to total global immunization might not be far out of reach.

– Sydney Blakeney
Photo: Flickr

Fragile Vaccines

Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, have developed a possible breakthrough with regards to the storage of certain fragile vaccines. They have found a way to protect these vaccines from direct heat, negating the need for them to be stored in a cool environment. The implications of this innovation are massive. If organizations like Health Canada approve it, the reach of vaccinations to rural areas will increase, and with that, disease and sickness should decrease.

Coating on Vaccines

The researchers found that placing a gel-like coating over the vaccines was the best way to protect them from the heat. To make this coating, researchers mixed two sugars, trehalose and pullulan, with the vaccine and let it dry. As the sugars dried, the researchers coated the vaccine, making it resistant to heat and rendering the cold chain (the process of storing vaccines at temperatures ranging from 2 C to 8 C) unnecessary. Heat resistance is important because many people living in more rural areas of the world do not have access to refrigeration. Now, individuals living in impoverished areas will have access to a number of vital vaccines, helping protect them from diseases such as Ebola and influenza.

The technology’s development was the result of countless years of testing and hard work. But it is clear that the end product will be more than worth the time spent. When asked about the significance of the technology, Vincent Leung, an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at McMaster and one of the masterminds of the testing, said that it is “very exciting that something we worked on in the lab has the possibility of saving people’s lives one day.” Leung has reason to be proud; the technology is filling a clear need and will undoubtedly have a massive impact upon its implementation.

What Happens Next

Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must still provide approval for the new technology. These organizations will analyze the effectiveness, practicality and safety of the technology. These organizations are likely to approve it because both have already accepted trehalose and pullulan.

The researchers have received funding from many organizations around the world, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They are now working with commercial partners in an effort to get the technology to market upon approval. Once accepted, it will likely see heavy usage in more rural parts of the world, such as in many regions of Africa. In many of these areas, individuals do not receive vaccinations for preventable diseases. In fact, more than 7.6 million children in Africa are not vaccinated each year.

This new innovation to transport fragile vaccines has immense potential to shape the future in a positive way. Vaccines will now become cheaper and more efficient to transport around the world. In addition, as more individuals obtain vaccinations, rates of disease and poverty should decrease and life expectancy should increase. While there are still many steps for this new technology to take before implementation, the promise of the technology provides immense hope.

– Kiran Matthias
Photo: Flickr