29 April 2022 | Science conversation
We are talking about vaccines today. What are the vaccines in the pipeline? Are they going to be fast tracked like we saw with the COVID-19 vaccines? And how are we going to turn these lifesaving vaccines into vaccinations?
Hello and welcome to Science in 5. I'm Vismita Gupta-Smith. Our expert today is Dr. Katherine O’Brien. Welcome, Kate. Let's start with the vaccines that are in the pipeline.
Dr. Katherine O’Brien
That's such a great question, Vismita.
We've seen the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines over the past two years, and there is a whole pipeline of products that are coming through that are against other germs other than COVID-19. They really fall into two categories.
The first is vaccines for germs that we don't have vaccines for. And the primary ones that we're pursuing in that group are vaccines against RSV. That's a virus that is one of the most common causes of serious lung disease in young children and infants. It comes through in waves on an annual basis in pretty much every country around the world. Another of the new vaccines that we don't have a product yet for is group b strep (GBS). That's a germ, a bacteria that causes very serious infections in young infants and leads to death in young infants. And so this is obviously an important target to prevent meningitis in infants and protect the lives of newborns. We also have vaccines that are still being pursued against viruses for which we don't have a vaccine, HIV in particular.
Then there's the other category of vaccines, ones that we already have, but we're pursuing improved vaccines. And in that category, we're looking very seriously at tuberculosis vaccines, second generation tuberculosis vaccines. In that category are also improved influenza vaccines. And of course, second generation COVID vaccines are also in development.
Kate, with COVID-19 vaccines, we saw a fast track process. Can we expect the same with vthese upcoming vaccines?
Dr. Katherine O’Brien
Well, COVID-19 was very special and we probably all heard this term unprecedented. We keep calling the development of COVID-19 vaccines unprecedented. And the reason that we shouldn't necessarily expect that the pace of vaccine development will go as quickly as it did are for several reasons.
The second reason is that the amount of funding that goes into vaccine development was enormous and unprecedented for COVID vaccines.
And the third reason that these were so fast and so successful was that there was an infrastructure for clinical trials around the world that was used and turned over to COVID-19 vaccine development. So it was really that there was this one target that everybody was pursuing. So for these other vaccines, we wouldn't expect that they would go nearly as quickly.
However, I think because of all the different ways that clinical development of vaccines happened during COVID-19, people are really learning the lessons from that and looking at the steps that can be shortened or run in parallel so that we can actually shorten the amount of time and the amount of effort and investment it takes to bring some of these lifesaving vaccines actually to availability.
Kate, we know that governments around the world are working hard to provide access to these vaccines. Speak to us about how these upcoming vaccines will be turned into vaccination.
Dr. Katherine O’Brien
You know, it's commonly said that vaccines don't save lives, vaccinations save lives.
And so it's a vaccine is really of no benefit if it sits on the shelf and doesn't actually get deployed. Now, there are lots of reasons why vaccinations don't happen, even though vaccines are available. Some of the reasons why is simply the convenience of the services. They're not at the time or the place or the distance where it's easy for really busy people, especially busy mothers, to take their kids or their adolescent teenagers to get vaccination. It's also a problem for older adults.
Now, another reason why vaccines don't turn into vaccinations and we've heard a lot about vaccine hesitancy, or people who are opposed to vaccination. And I want to really debunk a myth that somehow this is a big group of people. In fact, people who are opposed to vaccination is a very small fraction of people who don't get vaccinated. And usually they're operating under some misinformation that's been shared with them. But there is another group of people who are hesitant about vaccines. They may have questions about how safe do we know that vaccines are and what is the way that vaccines work. Again, a lot of misinformation among people about exactly what vaccines do when you receive a vaccine.
And I want to just reinforce that vaccines stimulate your own immune system, your body's natural immune system to develop protections against the germ that is actually being vaccinated against.So that when you may be exposed to that germ in the future, in a real life setting, your body already has defenses to protect against it.
Thank you, Kate. If you have any questions about vaccines, please visit our website. Remember, vaccines save lives. Until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.