Dr Jerome H. Kim
Director General of the International Vaccine Institute
Producing safe, low-cost and effective vaccines for developing countries is essential for public health. Getting vaccines out of the lab and to the people who need them is a real challenge, however.
“Vaccines save lives…” says Dr Jerome H. Kim, “…millions of them. If all the vaccines we currently have were fully deployed, we would save 2.5 million lives per year,” he says. “In a decade, we would save 25 million people. That’s incredible.” Yet, the fact is that more vaccines need to reach more people in developing countries. That’s a challenge — and for many reasons.
Dr Kim is the Director General of the International Vaccine Institute (IVI). He presses the importance of partnerships across countries, between companies and with the support of philanthropies.
“This partnership model fills an important niche,” insists Dr Kim, “because big pharma doesn’t have much interest in R&D or bulk manufacturing of vaccines for diseases that only exist in low-income countries. The R&D costs can be too large and the failure rates too high.”
Dealing with the challenges of vaccine delivery
Of course, developing vaccines that are effective against deadly diseases is one challenge. Delivering them to hundreds of thousands of people in remote areas, disaster locations, refugee camps, or countries experiencing civil unrest and violence is an equally daunting one. As a result, more inventive vaccine design is needed.
“Vaccines that need to be stored at a certain temperature can’t be stockpiled in, say, a refugee camp or in a cyclone-hit location where there is no refrigeration,” says Dr Kim. “So, we have to design vaccines that are more robust and can deal with those types of delivery issues.”
“We also have to think of the end user. It’s no use producing vaccines that must be kept at -20°C and have to be reconstituted with cold, clean water.”
“Thankfully,” says Dr Kim, “many low-income countries are developing, or have developed, their vaccination infrastructure, which helps with delivery and increases immunisation coverage.”
For example, 85% of infants globally receive a DPT vaccine to protect them against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. “We now need to find new funders, build on the success we have achieved in cholera, and extend it to other vaccines and diseases that are a substantial burden in low- and middle-income countries,” explains Dr Kim. “With the right partnerships and funding, I think we can do it: improve delivery of existing vaccines and develop and deploy vaccines against the next set of neglected disease targets – HIV, TB, Strep A and others.”
If all the vaccines we currently have were fully deployed, we would save 2.5 million lives a year.