Vaccinating the MassesFlu shots are synonymous with cold and wintry conditions. Lines stretching hundreds of feet from the doors of CVS and middle schools become commonplace during the first months of a new year.

Every year, children squirm awaiting the dreaded shot, vaccinating them from the clutches of the dreaded flu. We’ve become accustomed to this process over the years, but the reality is that this tedious cycle may be coming to an end with new medical advancements on the horizon.

The world’s first universal vaccine may be right around the corner. Researchers at Rockefeller University are working to develop a new type of vaccine that, according to the Times of India will, “harness a previously unknown mechanism within the immune system to create more effective and efficient vaccines against this virus which may ultimately result in a vaccine that provides life-long immunity against flu infections.”

The vaccine operates by targeting all varieties of flu strains and utilizes modified antibodies.

These new antibodies are being formulated to target flu strains that often are not treated by standard vaccines. An article in EurekAlert examined the science behind this bold undertaking by scientists.

“Work in the Ravetch lab suggests a new alternative: chemical modifications to the Fc region of antibodies. These regions go on to form complexes with vaccine antigens, which then modulate the evolving vaccine response,” reads an excerpt from EurekaAlert.

Essentially, once the new vaccine is administered to the patient, it continually evolves to combat any future flu strains that may arise in the patient.

The possibility of a universal flu vaccine being only years away would revolutionize world health. By only needing to be administered once, the vaccine could be distributed all over the world.

This would allow for those in poverty to receive vaccination and have life-long immunity. Mortality rates all over the world would decrease incrementally with life-long vaccination a reality.

– Diego Catala

Sources: Eurekalert, Times of India
Photo: Google Images

Vaccinate_children“Together let’s vaccinate all of the world’s children,” reads the website for Alma Sana, a nonprofit organization started by Lauren Braun.

Braun, a former pre-med student at Cornell University, started the company after spending a summer traveling to villages in Peru to remind mothers to take their children in to get vaccinated.

Immunizations are critical in developing countries, where they can save the lives of children and help protect the health of others.

Due to donors such as the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joining forces, the number of immunizations in developing countries has soared in recent times. Estimates reveal that immunizations have prevented the future death of seven million children since 2000.

However, developing countries are still facing the problem of young mothers forgetting to vaccinate children on time, as vaccine schedules are becoming more complex. That’s where Braun stepped in to help.

Alma Sana creates flexible bracelets to serve as tiny calendars to remind mothers to make sure their children receive necessary immunizations on time.

The bracelets, which are made from silicon, fit around the ankle of a newborn child and contain symbols and numbers to communicate vaccination information. Words aren’t used so illiterate mothers have an easier time understanding.

A laminated information card comes with each bracelet and is used to decode the symbols.

For example, a triangle, circle, X and square are below the number four on the bracelet, representing four months of age. The triangle represents the vaccine for polio, the circle equals the vaccine for pneumonia, and the X represents the vaccine for rotavirus. The square serves as a reminder for the pentavalent shot, an immunization that protects against five diseases.

Once a child receives an immunization, a nurse will punch a hole in the symbol or number corresponding to the vaccine.

Funding for the bracelets came via a grant from the Gates Foundation, which Braun used to test the tiny reminders in clinics in Ecuador and Peru. The bracelets cost less than 10 cents and come in both blue and pink.

Braun is currently working on a video fundraising campaign to support a trial of the bracelets in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Colombia. The trial will be randomized and controlled, involving around 5,000 mothers and infants.

You can check out her video below:

Matt Wotus

Sources: Alma Sana, Gavi, The New York Times
Photo: Flickr

On July 13, 2015, Alwaleed Philanthropies announced their commitment to protecting the lives of children through immunization programs. They have signed an agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, worth $1 million.

According to its website, “Alwaleed Philanthropies supports and initiates projects around the world, regardless of gender, race, or religion. [They] collaborate with a range of philanthropic, governmental and educational organizations to combat poverty, empower women and the youth, develop communities, provide disaster relief and create cultural understanding through education.”

Alwaleed Philanthropies has supported thousands of projects in over 90 countries and served millions of people across the globe for over 35 years.

The agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance was negotiated in January at the Gavi Pledging Conference. This is the first time Alwaleed Philanthropies has provided support to Gavi.

The contribution from Alwaleed Philanthropies is multiple projects to support the vaccine needs in Timor Leste, Kiribati, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Guyana for the 2016 to 2020 period.

Gavi’s Resource Mobilization and Private Sector Partnerships Managing Director Marie-Ange Sarakao-Yao say, “We are very pleased that His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has decided to support Gavi through Alwaleed Philanthropies. Immunization is one of the most effective ways of reducing preventable deaths in the poorest countries and thanks to this contribution, Gavi will be able to support developing countries with vaccines that protect children against preventable diseases.”

Every year, nearly 22 million children do not receive a full course of even the most basic vaccines. These children are mainly in poor countries. More than one in five of all children who die before the age of five lose their lives to vaccine-preventable diseases.

Since 2000, Gavi has invested more than $3.8 billion to introduce vaccines to the members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). For the 2016 to 2020 period, Gavi predicts that 60% of its funding will support immunization programs in OIC who are eligible for Gavi support.

Since its introduction in 2000, Gavi has helped developing countries immunize over a billion children, saving seven million lives. World leaders joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in January to raise $7.5 billion to ensure Gavi supported programs anticipated for the 2016 to 2020 time period

With this contribution, Gavi will be able to support an additional 300 million children with vaccines. Because of the funding it is receiving, Gavi is taking the steps to ensure all children will survive vaccine-preventable diseases. Because not all families can afford vaccines, Gavi is the bridge between healthy children and the future of vaccinated children.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulazaz Al Saud, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
Photo: Alwaleed Philanthropies

Top 5 Diseases that Are Now Nearly Eradicated
For many years, life expectancy of humans was around 40 to 50 years old. Once modern medicine advanced, these numbers changed drastically. Thanks to vaccinations and better medical understanding of diseases, people all over the world can rest a little easier knowing some life-threatening diseases are now nearly eradicated.


Smallpox has been responsible for an estimated 300 million to 500 million deaths in the 20th century alone. This horrifying disease was characterized by small, painful bumps which appeared all over a patient’s body. Smallpox was particularly scary because it affected people of all ages. When scientist Edward Jenner noticed that individuals who had been exposed to cowpox were seemingly immune to this disease, an idea struck. Since the invention of the small pox vaccine in 1796, the world has seen a rapid decrease in the number of cases. In fact, smallpox is the only disease that is considered to be 100 percent eradicated throughout the entire world.


At its prime, polio was known to be one of the most feared diseases in the world, mainly because it primarily affected young children. It sent hundreds of thousands of children to the hospital. When Dr. Jonas Salk invented a vaccine against it, the world rejoiced. Although this vaccine has not yet been spread throughout the world, with help from organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, polio is on its way out. Hopefully within the next few years, polio will have been eradicated throughout the entire world and parents will no longer have to fear for the lives of their children.

The Plague

The Black Death killed over 50 million people in Europe, accounting for about 60 percent of the population at the time. The disease was spread through infected rats and other small animals. Once infected, people were highly contagious. This disease was characterized by horrible blisters called “boobos” that would emerge and fester on an ill persons’ body. While doctors did not know how to prevent this disease at the time it has since disappeared from the world as sanitation and medical practices have become much more elaborate. While there may be one case every decade, it looks like the plague is gone for now and, hopefully, will never make another appearance.


Tetanus has long been considered a disease of filth, something one can catch by touching rusted metal or using an infected needle. It affects thousands of people each year and causes muscle spasms, lock-jaw and a whole host of other horrible symptoms. Nowadays, most developed nations such as the United States no longer have trouble with this disease, as children are regularly vaccinated against it. In developing nations doctors can administer emergency tetanus shots and have seen great success with this. It is imperative that doctors begin to vaccinate more patients in third world countries as these are the most at-risk individuals. Although this disease has not yet been eradicated, the number of cases has drastically dropped.


Rabies has long haunted the big screen throughout the world, with visions of Old Yeller foaming at the mouth sending audiences to tears everywhere, but this image is a reality for many individuals who live every day surrounded by stray animals. Rabies is a virus which is contractible by almost any mammal and is characterized by over excitation, confusion, paranoia, fear of water and the tell-tale foaming at the mouth. Rabies can be transferred through a bite from an infected animal and can have devastating effects once the virus takes root. Thankfully, vaccines have been developed to prevent the disease from taking hold. Whenever an individual is bitten by an animal, it is mandatory that they get a rabies shot; these regulations have allowed doctors to monitor and significantly reduce the amount of rabies related deaths in the United States. Many other nations such as India and parts of Africa are beginning to adapt these procedures and are currently making key decisions about the lives of their stray furry friends.

Thanks to the care and dedication of many scientists and researchers, we now live in a safer and happier world. Hopefully more innovation can lead us down a path of true health and happiness.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: MNN, UNICEF

Photo: My NYC Doctor

For people in America and Europe, getting vaccines is easy. Schedule an appointment, go to the doctor, and get a quick prick in the arm before heading home as if nothing happened. But in the developing world, it is not as simple.

Immunization in the developing world “is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions to date, saving millions of lives and protecting countless children from illness and disability.” Because of vaccinations polio is on the verge of irradiation. The prevalence of measles, one of the biggest killers of children, has gone down 71% globally. Immunization coverage around the globe has never been higher than it is today.

Vaccinations have not yet fulfilled their full potential, though: 21.8 million children under the age of one had not received the recommended doses against tetanus or diphtheria. Furthermore, 21.6 million children did not get a single dose of measles vaccines in 2013.

Because of this, 29% of deaths in children between the ages of one and 59 months old in the developing world are caused by diseases that are vaccine-preventable. This breaks down to 1.5 million deaths a year, or one death every 20 seconds. A major reason this happens is the difficulty in delivering vaccines to many parts of the developing world.

Much of the Global South’s environment is a combination of heat and humidity. This environment is not good for vaccines, which must be kept at low temperatures—usually between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit. That is not a lot of room for error, and the difficulties associated with transporting such delicate immunizations over such long distances are numerous.

Not only must they be kept at that temperature range during transit, but also once they arrive at their destination and until they are used. This becomes troublesome since many experience black-outs, or do not have power at all.

What is the answer to this temperature conundrum? Silk. More specifically, proteins in silk. Researchers at Tufts University have discovered a new vaccination preservation technology through the use of certain proteins contained in silk. They can eliminate the need for refrigeration by essentially curing vaccines, much like food was pickled or salted before refrigeration even existed. But this time it works even better.

The proteins in silk keep vaccines “folded.” In other words, when a vaccine becomes too warm the shape unfolds, rendering the vaccine useless. That sounds pretty complicated, but what is important is that the silk can essentially “pin the structure in place,” keeping immunizations effective in hostile environments.

Silk protein-stabilized vaccines can withstand a temperature of 100 degrees for two or more weeks. Immunizations include those against mumps, measles and rubella. Without the silk proteins, these vaccinations would go bad in under a day.

Silk is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for some medical uses, but the protein-stabilization for vaccines is not yet a pharmaceutical reality. While the potential for usefulness is high, it remains merely a concept in labs and not a medical reality. The upside is high, however. Getting rid of the need for electrical cooling would enable for vaccines to be spread to areas of the globe which they have yet to reach, bringing the unvaccinated closer to life-saving immunizations.

Gregory Baker

Sources: Vaxess, NPR, UNICEF, GHSPJournal
Photo: Flickr

Polio in Ethiopia
The World Health Organization confirmed that polio in Ethiopia has been eradicated after an assessment team concluded the evaluation process from June 8 to June 12, 2015. This last polio outbreak began almost two years ago in the Horn of Africa, specifically in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

The assessment team consisted of experts from the Centers for Disease Control, Rotary International, the United States Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CORE Group, the United Nations Children Fund, the World Health Organization Headquarters and the World Health Organization Horn of Africa Polio Coordination Office.

The assessment team worked together throughout the outbreak in all three countries to determine that global standards had been met in response to the outbreak and that the transmission of polio had been interrupted. To do this, the team monitored updates from the Federal Ministry of Health on such matters as immunization progress and activities, funding aspects, communication and surveillance.


Polio in Ethiopia: Remaining Polio-Free


The assessment also provided a framework for the efforts still needed to maintain a polio-free status. In order to remain polio-free, Ethiopia needs to update its outbreak and preparedness response plan, strengthen routine immunization and fortify their implementation of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) surveillance.

AFP is the symptom that indicates that polio could be present. It means that limbs are floppy and lifeless. However, its presence could also be due to other causes. As a result, AFP must be reported in every child less than 15 years of age and tested for poliovirus within 48 hours of onset.

It is expected that there are one to two cases of AFP in every 100,000 children under the age of 5. If there are no reports of AFP in such circumstances, then a region is considered to be “silent.” “Silence” indicates a weakness in the surveillance system, and a failure to end this “silence” could prevent the eradication of polio.

According to WHO, “As long as a single child remains infected […] as many as 200,000 new cases could result every year within 10 years, all over the world.”

Polio is caused by a highly infectious virus, poliovirus, which invades the nervous system. However, 90% of infected people have no symptoms or just very mild symptoms that go unnoticed. In other cases, symptoms could consist of fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infected people become irreversibly paralyzed, usually in the legs. Five to ten percent of those paralyzed die because their breathing muscles become paralyzed.

Across the Horn of Africa, 223 children became paralyzed during the last two years, due to the poliovirus.

Since there is no cure for polio, the polio vaccination is the only protection. In Ethiopia, social mobilizers were successful in their efforts to raise parents’ awareness of the risks of polio and upcoming campaigns to vaccinate children.

It is these connections among informed social mobilizers, healthcare workers and parents within a community that not only leads to vaccination but also builds understanding and commitment to recognizing and reporting AFP to authorities.

Although vaccination and AFP are critical in the eradication of polio, this is not accepted knowledge everywhere. Taliban militants strongly resist vaccination campaigns and are considered responsible for deadly attacks on polio vaccination workers. They “view the campaign as un-Islamic and the health workers are Western spies,” according to The New York Times. Pakistan accounted for 85% of the polio cases reported in 2014.

Ethiopia reported its last case of polio on January 5, 2014. Kenya has also halted the transmission of polio, having reported its last case of polio on July 14, 2013. Somalia has not yet been assessed for eradcation, even though it reported its last case on August 11, 2014. The Somalian government is unable to reach approximately 350,000 children under the age of 5 in order to administer vaccinations, and the assessment team has found gaps in their surveillance efforts.

In spite of these hurdles, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, launched in 1988 by the World Health Assembly to eradicate polio worldwide, has made enormous progress. Since that time, the number of people infected with the poliovirus has dropped more than 99%. In 2014, only 3 countries remain polio-endemic: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Janet Quinn

Sources: Global Polio Eradication Initiative, The New York Times, Outbreak News Today 1, Outbreak News Today 2, WHO
Photo: Flickr

vaccination_programsVaccinations are often dreaded here in the “developed” world. But they are such a basic part of life that almost everyone gets them without a second thought. However, for thousands upon thousands, vaccinations are not second thought but a luxury.

While immunizations are widely available in America and Europe, it is a different story in the developing world. But is it possible to tell who actually needs their vaccinations? Shot records are a struggle to get even here in America at times, but in the developing world it can be a nightmare to tell who needs what.

Back in 1974, the World Health Organization (WHO) began the Extended Program on Immunization (EPI). The plan was to set up the managerial and technical functions needed to vaccinate children from diphtheria, measles, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, tetanus and whooping cough. The end goal was to get children the vaccines they needed on schedule through health visits.

At the time, coverage levels for vaccines was at five percent, but by 1991, the 80 percent benchmark target was met, saving millions of lives. Recently, the WHO has recommended vaccines against type B of haemophilus influenza, hepatitis B, streptococcus pneumoniae, rotavirus, rubella and human papillomavirus for girls.

These extra vaccines are necessary, but the effects of them have not yet been realized. Part of the problem is that with more vaccines come more logistical issues. More vaccines mean that more and improved communication between caregivers and health workers is needed. Add to this the fact that health systems are becoming more complicated and there appears a huge logistical problem.

This is where new diagnostic technology comes in to play. Coupled with spread of mobile technology throughout the developing world, detection paired with cloud technology could redefine the way vaccines are administered around the globe. One organization, Diagnostics for All, is doing just this.

Regular measuring of vaccine administration is extremely important in determining the progress in vaccination goals, such as the ones set out by the EPI. However, in the developing world, common modes of measurement such as household surveys lack accuracy in detecting diseases preventable by vaccines. This is because of low participation, the cost of a clinical examination and reporting inflation.

To fix this, Diagnostics for All has developed an easy solution. Using patterned paper technology, they have developed a test that can be used in resource-stricken areas of the world. It is lightweight, less expensive than other forms of diagnostic tests, reliable and easy to use. No trained doctor is required to run the test and minimal training is needed to perform it: “a sample from a finger prick is sufficient to yield results. No syringes are involved and neither clean water nor sample preparation is needed.”

The test can display results in minutes and has the possibility to interface to Smartphone technology. This idea has the potential to fix the logistical problems that have developed since the WHO began recommending more vaccinations in 2014. By administering a test that can be cheaply done on a broad scale it will be possible to see who needs what and who has already been vaccinated, all from one Smartphone. Will this possibility become a reality? Only time will tell.

Gregory Baker

Sources: Embedded-Computing, DFA, GHSPJournal, WHO
Photo: Humanosphere

In January 2015, the Myanmar government launched the first stage of the largest national campaign to eradicate and control Measles and Rubella by the year 2020.

The second stage took place in February 2015. Initially, these beginning stages were concentrated on Measles, but from May 2015 onward, the national campaign will offer the Measles and Rubella vaccine jointly.

The campaign is supported by the WHO, GAVI, American Red Cross, the U.N. Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF. The goal is to reach 94 percent of the population through vaccination teams of 12,000 health care professionals. The aim is to reach 17 million children between nine months and 15 years in 65,000 villages and 45,000 schools.

Myanmar has remained committed to vaccinating its population against fatal and debilitating diseases. In 2013, a polio immunization campaign was launched and 370,00 children under five years were vaccinated using the oral drops method. In early 2014, Myanmar, along with many other states in Southeast Asia, was declared polio-free.

Health care is reported to be expensive, of a poor quality and has difficulty in providing attentive care toward patients in Myanmar.

This vaccination campaign is also incredibly important because the population has been neglected in terms of health care due to the ongoing conflict and political issues. There are 587,000 internally displaced persons. There are 800,000 living in the western state, Rakhine state, who are stateless and 140,000 who have fled from their homes. Nevertheless, this campaign is attempting to reach those living in Rakhine state, which has been in an increasingly violent conflict-ridden state since 2012 as there are numerous clashes between Muslims and Buddhists. The vaccination campaign aims to reach populations in this region at a higher rate to match the national level.

While there are political hurdles to achieving an overall better health care system, the coordination of efforts between the state, local and international bodies in regard to vaccination is successful. This vaccination campaign is a major stride for Myanmar investing in the betterment of its people.

– Courteney Leinonen

Sources: Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Reliefweb, WHO, BBC, Salon
Photo: Measles & Rubella Initiative

In some of the most rural areas of the world, people suffer from preventable diseases due to exposer to unsanitary drinking water and poor living conditions. While organizations continue the fight to bring clean water and food to these areas, it is also important that rural populations have access to vaccinations to help them combat these diseases. According to UNICEF, immunizations have the potential to save up to three million children yearly. However, there has been a decline in the progress of maintaining the spread of vaccinations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to improve the distribution of immunizations in developing countries. According to the WHO, all of the 194 member states belonging to the WHO endorsed the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) in 2012. Moreover, member states have set goals to eliminate six diseases by the end of 2015. Although there continues to be a gap with one in five children missing vaccines, WHO hopes to see a world free of preventable diseases by 2020.

The goal to spread vaccination around the world by 2020 is also known as the Decade of Vaccines– implemented in 2011 and already eliciting substantial progress. The Gates Foundation has invested in vaccines and immunizations to help achieve the goals of the Decade of Vaccines. The Foundation understands the restrictions that keep vaccinations from people in rural areas, especially since some vaccines need refrigeration which is lacking in these places.  The Gates Foundation  continues to “support the innovation needed to develop new vaccines and new delivery technologies and approaches.”

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) also continues to take action against vaccine-preventable diseases, disability and death. It is important “to protect the health of Americans and global citizens by preventing disease, disability, and death through immunization,” says the CDC, as stated in their Global Immunization Strategic Framework for 2011-2015. Organizations like these provide hope that the world will some day be free of preventable diseases. Although there are many places that continue to be hard to reach, the fight to vaccinate the world by 2020 continues in full force.

– Kimberly Quitzon

Sources: UNICEF, WHO, The Gates Foundation, CDC
Photo: Flickr

Small villages can be like family, and viewing their communities like houses is helping nurses save lives. One in five children worldwide are not receiving vaccinations for dangerous but preventable diseases. According to the World Health Organization, this is not up to par with the expectations that were set for the year 2015.

However, with the introduction of “My Village, My Home” to health workers, children who still need to get a vaccination can be documented.  Introduced by the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program to 28 different health centers in India in 2011, “My Village, My Home” is a tool used to keep track of the vaccinated children in the community.

Each child in the village receives a “plank” that makes up the foundation of the sketched house. The oldest children are at the bottom of the drawn home. Once a child is vaccinated, their plank is shaded in, turning the plank into a metaphorical brick. The idea is that a strong, well-built house is the safest place to live. The less shaded bricks there are, the weaker the house is. A new house can be drawn each year to document newborns.

A study conducted by USAID shows that keeping records of vaccinated children in this simple way makes a significant difference. When the concept was implemented in Deoghar and Jamatara, districts in eastern India had poor vaccination rates. Today, only a mere  1.9 percent of children remain unvaccinated. USAID is attempting to spread the word and encourage health workers to make a point of congratulating parents who make the decision to vaccinate their child.

“By using the tool, I am able to count all the [children] in my community with their immunization status on a single chart,” says Esther Das, a health worker in an Indian village called Chandradeepa. Das, who was acknowledged in 2014 at a celebration for “India’s three-year freedom from polio” as the district’s best performer, credits “My Village, My Home” for making a huge difference for the infants in her community. With any luck, word of this tool will spread to more communities and save even more lives.

Melissa Binns