Interim Director, Vaccine Delivery, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
This is an exciting time to be working in the field of immunisation says Violaine Mitchell, Interim Director, Vaccine Delivery, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Why are vaccination programmes important?
“Vaccines are the miracle of science and technology, making commonplace diseases a distant memory. Take smallpox, the first disease to ever be eradicated, and polio, which is close to becoming the second – thanks to vaccines. We’ve also reduced the number of children killed by measles every year. That’s the power of vaccines. Immunisation is the foundation of every country’s public health programme and important in fighting antimicrobial resistance.”
What are the trends in vaccine uptake?
“The World Health Organization has identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health and this is threatening to reverse the amazing progress we’ve made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases. We have to understand what’s driving these issues. I travel a lot and do come back to this: the majority of the world seeks vaccination. For instance, I’ve seen women in northern Nigeria walking miles and miles to ensure their children are vaccinated.”
How can we get vaccines to children in remote areas?
“One of the most exciting developments is the use of drones, which is opening up a whole new delivery system. Let’s say you’re in an underserved area of Rwanda or Ghana – it can be a real challenge for some healthcare centres to make sure they have enough vaccines for every child. Now, a healthcare worker can text a message and the vaccine arrives in 20 minutes.”
Are you optimistic for the future?
“Yes, because there are lots of exciting innovations happening, such as micro-needle patches to do away with injections. I’m excited about where the future is heading. We’re going to get sharper, smarter and more effective in delivering vaccines.”