Wednesday April 24, 2019

World Immunization Week: Vaccine is the most powerful Public Health Tool

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FILE - A boy gets an influenza vaccine injection at a health care clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, Jan. 12, 2013. VOA

Six years ago, 194 countries signed on to the Global Vaccine Action Plan, an international campaign to provide children and adults around the world with access to life-saving vaccines.

The goal of the program is to prevent millions of people from getting vaccine-preventable diseases by the time it ends in 2020. The idea is to provide universal access to vaccines to protect people of all ages, from the very young to the very old.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, is the assistant director-general for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization.

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“Immunization and vaccines are the most powerful public health tools that we have currently, “ she said.

Millions of children saved

Bustreo says 35 years ago, 13 million children lost their lives from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines.

She says that number has been reduced to 6 million, but 6 million is still too high.

Today, 85 percent of children are vaccinated against measles and other deadly diseases, but Bustreo says more children need these vaccines.

“We need to have vaccination coverage that is about 90 percent, in order to have what we call the ‘herd effect’ … which means you cover the children who are vaccinated, but also, because of the reduction of transmission of infections, you also cover the children that are not vaccinated,” Bustreo said.

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Final push on polio

Because of vaccines, polio is on the brink of eradication. Polio exists in two conflict zones: in northern Nigeria and along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Last year there were 37 cases. Compare that to the 350,000 cases in 1988 when the eradication campaign began.

There’s a special urgency to vaccinate all children against polio. Dr. David Nabarro has worked on a number of health programs at the World Health Organization and now as a special envoy for the United Nations.

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“The last part of eradicating any disease is always the hardest part,” he said. “If you don’t do it, you lose everything. To do it, you’ve got to really bring all the energy and commitment you can to bear, and it requires a special kind of dedication.”

Vaccines have prevented millions of deaths and countless numbers of children from becoming disabled. By 2020, at the conclusion of the Global Vaccine Action Plan, the U.N. wants to see countries strengthen routine immunizations for all children. It wants to complete the effort to end polio and to control other vaccine-preventable diseases. Also, the goal is to be well on the way in developing new vaccines for other diseases that plague our world. (VOA)

Next Story

New Antibody Approach to Tackle Ebola, Research To Make Successful Treatments For The Deadly Viral Infection

Antibodies intended for treatment are normally collected from the blood of people who have survived infection. But they can also be tricky to obtain and carry heightened risks such as potential persistent viruses or other pathogens.

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A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a boy who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the village of Mangina, in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018. VOA

Scientists working on developing vaccines against Ebola have found they can “harvest” antibodies from volunteers vaccinated in research trials and use them to make treatments for the deadly viral infection.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell Reports, the scientists said the approach could be used for Ebola and other newly emerging deadly diseases caused by viruses.

The technique, based on people exposed to the Ebola vaccine but not the Ebola virus itself, suggests protective therapies could be developed from people who are disease-free.

“It is a small, extra step that could lead to new antibody therapies from an increased pool of donors and with reduced risk,” said Alain Townsend, a professor at the MRC Human Immunology Unit at Britain’s Oxford University.

FILE - Health workers treat an unconfirmed Ebola patient inside an Ebola Treatment Center (ETC) in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nov. 3, 2018.
Health workers treat an unconfirmed Ebola patient inside an Ebola Treatment Center (ETC) in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nov. 3, 2018.

He noted that besides Ebola, many experimental vaccines for other life-threatening infections, such as H5N1 and H7N9 bird flu and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), are entering clinical trials and could offer similar opportunities for antibodies to be collected.

Ebola is now spreading in Democratic Republic of Congo, where World Health Organization data show at least 676 people have been killed and more than 700 others infected in an outbreak that started eight months ago.

The largest Ebola epidemic in history swept through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in 2013-2016, killing more than 11,000 people. That outbreak prompted a global push to develop vaccines and treatments — and some, including a protective shot developed by Merck and several antibody therapies for infected patients, have been deployed in the Congo outbreak.

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The technique, based on people exposed to the Ebola vaccine but not the Ebola virus itself, suggests protective therapies could be developed from people who are disease-free. Pixbay

Antibodies intended for treatment are normally collected from the blood of people who have survived infection. But they can also be tricky to obtain and carry heightened risks such as potential persistent viruses or other pathogens.

The Oxford team decided to try using blood from trial volunteers who had been given an experimental Ebola vaccine and whose immune system had responded to the shot by making antibodies. They successfully isolated 82 antibodies taken from 11 volunteers in trial at Oxford’s Jenner Institute.

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They found that despite having less time to develop, a third of the antibodies were effective at neutralizing a strain of Ebola known as Zaire — the one causing the Congo outbreak.

The scientists then made a cocktail of four of the antibodies to create a treatment, which successfully cured six guinea pigs of Ebola when it was administered three days after infection. (VOA)