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