The End of 2014 and the Future of Immunization
As we have mentioned before, and as the news has made abundantly clear, 2014 has been a busy year for doctors and health officials, many of them likely looking forward to putting these twelve months of crisis behind them. Stories of deadly epidemics and mysterious, resurgent viruses have dominated headlines, while our greatest defense against these very real diseases, vaccines, has become more challenged than ever (the awful effects of which may be yet to come).
There’s no debate that the year has been both sad and frustrating, but as it draws to a close, so begins the traditional look towards what lies ahead, how we can learn from everything that’s gone wrong to make it right, or to keep it from happening again at all. I have never felt it to be a coincidence that the holidays, the most optimistic, generous, and communal part of the year takes place in December, as they serve as the perfect lead –in to the joy and promise that January, the future, may very well hold for us. The end of the year always demands perspective, a time for a conscious evaluation of the recent past and how we can use it to shape, as best as we can, the narrative of what is yet to come.
The struggle for global immunization is no different. In addition to the well-documented skepticism regarding the risks and efficacy of vaccines, many logistic concerns, such as those regarding the cold-chain (the basis for this organization’s existence) continue to hinder immunization efforts in the developing world, placing a major demand on limited resources.
Numerous technological and scientific attempts have been made to combat these obstacles, and some are finally finding success. Many of these innovations are focused on diminishing the restrictions of the cold-chain, as some vaccines are now being produced with the ability to last for days outside of a refrigeration unit – a crucial development for large immunization campaigns restricted by the cold-chain.
There is also good news regarding a possible powder vaccine, which could alleviate both cost and logistic challenges. “The powdered delivery system has a particular advantage in resource-starved areas, where clean water might not be available to reconstitute vaccines, and where storage can also be a concern… ‘You don’t need to worry about needles; you don’t need to worry about reconstituting vaccines with clean water; you don’t need to worry about disposal of sharps waste or other vaccine wastage issues; and dry delivery is cheaper.”’
These new developments are still in the preliminary stages. All vaccines still require refrigeration at some point, and in the case of the promising powder delivery, may be years away from any significant application. But work is being done in moving forward, to evaluate that which is holding back important efforts to spare the world from preventable disease. In a year like 2014 it’s easy to forget that somewhere progress is still being made; and while the next great success story remains to be seen, there can be no denying that it’s on its way.