All of the vaccines we currently have available were created for developed country health systems, which create many challenges for developing countries. Over the past year and a half, I’ve written about fascinating developments in the vaccine world that could have an incredible impact on expanding access to vaccines in the poorest parts of the world. Not only are we talking about new vaccines against the leading killers of children, but practical adaptations that could make existing vaccines cheaper, easier to administer, and more efficient to transport.
Here are the top three inventions and developments I’m most excited about.
- Microneedles – They are what they sound like – little needles. Imagine a small patch (like the Nanopatch™) that looks a bit like Velcro. Delivering a vaccine using the patch on the outer layer of the skin not only reduces pain, but can improve the overall immune response to the vaccine. Even more exciting, it requires up to 100 times less of the actual vaccine than most syringe and needle injections, and is easier to administer. The patch of microneedles is smaller than a postage stamp and contains around 20,000 tiny needles. What’s even better? Applying the coating of the vaccine onto the patch can be thermostable too – meaning that the vaccine can’t be affected by heat and can survive without a cold chain. Clinical trials will begin as soon as 2014.
- Silk – How luxurious, you say? As I wrote about in June of last year, a group of entrepreneurs is investigating how a protein extracted from silk can help stabilize the heat sensitivity of vaccines and eliminate the need to keep them cold. Essentially, by isolating a protein from silk, and adding the vaccine to the solution, a strip of the vaccine is formed that can withstand heat of up to 115°F. Once it’s shipped all over the world without refrigeration, the strip is re-constituted as a vaccine and can be delivered. This could be huge, especially as it’s estimated that nearly half of all global vaccines are spoilt as a result of failures in the cold chain.
- Uniject™ – Our friends at PATH have a broad portfolio of amazing work on vaccine technologies, but I think Uniject™, the single dose, easy-to-use vaccine applicator is pretty exciting. It’s a little plastic bubble connected to a needle that comes pre-filled with an exact dose of a vaccine. It is currently being used for Hepatitis B, a vaccine that is recommended immediately after birth. Its simple applicator requires very little training, and can be used by traditional birth attendants and midwives. Even more exciting, this technology is being adapted and used for life-saving maternal interventions like oxytocin.
There are many, many more technologies out there that have the potential to increase access to life-saving vaccines for all children, but what’s holding us back?
Well, it comes down to time, money, and incentives. Many of these technologies are in early stages of development or will require years of clinical trials to make sure they are safe and effective. More also needs to be done to incentivize innovators and manufacturers alike to bring products to market in a safe and affordable way. The big players like the GAVI Alliance, WHO, UNICEF and others can help to incentivize and stimulate this research and development so we can save more lives.
ACTION’s not the only one calling for vaccine adaptations that will expand access to hard-to-reach children, PATH, MSF Access, and many of our colleagues have great information about what we need in order to ensure that every child, no matter where they live has access to life-saving vaccines.