Vaccines are among the most cost-effective tools for fighting infectious disease. This is especially true in resource-poor settings, where treatment can be expensive and difficult to obtain. Yet globally, one in every five children still does not survive past their fifth birthday – and most of these deaths are from vaccine-preventable illnesses.
New vaccines typically take 15 years or more to reach developing countries once they have been approved in the developed world. To reverse this trend, organizations across the globe are working to accelerate access to existing, life-saving vaccines, particularly in areas with high burdens of preventable disease. In 2000, partners including national governments, UNICEF, WHO, The World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the vaccine industry, public health institutions and NGOs came together to form the GAVI Alliance, which aims to accelerate access to existing underused vaccines, strengthen health systems and introduce new innovation in the countries where they are needed most.
New and improved vaccines have recently been developed against rotavirus, pneumococcus, haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib), influenza, HPV, and meningitis – all of which place a disproportionate burden on developing countries. Rotavirus, for example, kills more than 500,000 children each year and well over 90 percent of these deaths are in developing countries. There are now two licensed vaccines that can safely and effectively prevent rotavirus. Yet it has taken far too long to get these vaccines – as well as vaccines against other diseases – to those who need them most.
A wide range of public and private sector organizations are also currently engaged in developing innovative vaccines for major infectious disease killers – including HIV, malaria and TB – and neglected tropical diseases. These organizations need sufficient resources and political support to move promising candidates through the product development pipeline. Some companies are committing valuable resources and scientific expertise to these efforts. At the same time, foundations, NGOs and product development partnerships have galvanized new research programs for diseases that have long been neglected.