In fact, many credit vaccination with making the greatest contribution to global health of any human intervention, aside from the introduction of clean water and sanitation.
The United Kingdom has clearly understood vaccination’s contribution to public health. Through a strong primary care network, robust school-based programmes and with the weight of the government behind vaccination, the UK has achieved coverage rates that are respected and aspired to around the world. The UK is a true world leader in vaccination and I’m sure I am not alone in wanting that leadership to continue. But, what will it take to achieve this?
When it comes to the future of vaccination, we in the industry are confident of the role we can play in disease prevention and treatment, using both existing as well as novel technologies. The fact is that vaccines can be used to fight many more diseases in people of all ages. If we look back to the 1900s, families were much larger, childhood mortality was high, average life expectancy was around 50 years of age, and vaccination was predominantly, and understandably, focused on addressing childhood diseases. By contrast, we are now living in a world with a high proportion of older adults, we enjoy a life expectancy of 80+ years, and the children of today could realistically live until 100+ years. It is clear that while vaccines must continue to address childhood diseases, it is time to look at vaccination throughout life – a concept called life-course immunisation.
The following are some examples of what the industry is doing to make life-course immunisation a reality:
In the short-term, we can do more with existing vaccines to increase their value for public health and benefit new groups; for example, mothers and their unborn babies may be protected by vaccinations during pregnancy. In the mid-term, we have a number of products already in development anticipated to be available within a ten year horizon. This includes universal flu vaccine candidates for older adults, as well as all other age groups. Finally, in the long-term, we are investing in pre-clinical research and development, looking to create value for public health for future generations, for example, through new vaccines, improved efficacy, or novel delivery mechanisms. However, the industry cannot achieve these ambitions without support.
Therefore, how can governments support industry innovations, ensuring the development of vaccines for the future? First, both industry and governments need to improve communications around supply capabilities and demand forecasting. The reality is that vaccines have long development and manufacturing cycles, so it is essential to have early discussions around future vaccination programmes as well as population needs, enabling a better match between supply and demand to secure access to appropriate vaccinations.
Second, I strongly believe that further work is needed to assess the true value of vaccines and to reward innovation. For instance, we could consider capturing the value of vaccination in areas such as reduced antibiotic usage. I am personally concerned about the situation we are currently facing, one in which the bar may be set higher for vaccine programmes to be cost-effective, potentially devaluing immunisation programmes. This approach could harm UK patients’ access to vaccines in the future, reducing accessibility to vaccination programmes that are critical in protecting people at every stage of their life.
I would like to conclude by reminding everyone reading this of the great success of vaccination in general and the achievements in the UK in particular. I can only encourage the UK government to continue to make use of one the of the greatest preventative tools currently available for public health, and to work in partnership to support vaccine development and use to continue this success story in the future.
When it comes to the future of vaccination, we in the industry are confident of the role we can play in disease prevention and treatment, using both existing as well as novel technologies.
Thomas Breuer, Chief Medical Officer of GSK Vaccines