Encouraging news in global vaccine work

Stamping out disease may have seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream a few generations ago, but today we know the power of modern medicine: once common diseases like small pox and polio are now usually only mentioned in medical textbooks and documentaries on the History Channel.

And we dare to dream of even greater successes thanks in part to some of the news we’ve been reading.

  • Bill and Melinda Gates announced recently that their foundation will commit $10 billion over the next 10 years to help research, develop and deliver vaccines for the world’s poorest countries. The Gateses said that increased investment in vaccines by governments and the private sector could help developing countries dramatically reduce child mortality by the end of the decade. “We must make this the decade of vaccines,” said Bill Gates. “Vaccines already save and improve millions of lives in developing countries. Innovation will make it possible to save more children than ever before.”
  • A story in the New York Times this week tells of Andrew Witty,  the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s second-largest drug company. Say what you will about Big Pharma, but here’s a story of someone dedicated to making both his company successful AND helping the world’s poorest souls. “I’m in charge of an organization that can actually make a difference for people in the third world,” he says. “And I am not going to be the person who, after X years, sits back and says, ‘Oh, I wish I’d done more.’ ” Inspiring stuff.

These two stories are linked together and to Cincinnati Children’s. One of the major focuses of our Global Health Center is vaccines. We’ve done extensive work (and been published) in Asia to demonstrate the effectiveness of flu vaccine protecting not only pregnant women, but also their unborn children.We’ve received millions in funding from the Gates Foundation.

And this work is just the latest in a long effort with vaccines.

The rotavirus vaccine that GlaxoSmithKline is using around the world was developed at Cincinnati Children’s. That vaccine was recently the subject of a study published in the New England Journal that shows how introducing it in South Africa and Malawi reduced severe diarrhea caused by the virus by more than 60 percent.

And, of course, our history in cutting edge vaccine research goes back even further: Albert Sabin developed the oral polio vaccine here, helping make polio one of those dreadful diseases that used to haunt us and now exists mostly only in memories and history books. Later this year, we’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of what has been come to be known as Sabin Sunday — a day in 1960 when thousands of children received the vaccine.

We were also encouraged last week when the British medical journal Lancet repudiated a study it published a decade ago that claimed a link between vaccines and autism. We hope this puts that debate to rest for good.

So, there is good news on the worldwide vaccine front. We’ll continue to work on it, hoping to “change the outcome” for kids not only in our backyard here in snow-covered southwest Ohio, but in every corner of the globe.

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