Vaccines are a major weapon in the fight against disease. Today the Bill & Melinda Gates have pledged funds for a “decade of vaccines” in poor and developing countries.

(Source: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Their press release goes on to say

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, and they called for others to help fill critical financing gaps in both research funding and childhood immunization programs.

’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 video of the full press conference is available to the right of the press release page.

The broader announcement called for a wide range of initiatives including scaling vaccine programs up, laboratory research and clinical trials to create new vaccines, introducing new vaccines for pneumonia and severe diarrhoea among other things, and improving the market and access of vaccines in developing countries.

The initiative is ’in addition to the $4.5 billion that the Gates Foundation has already committed to vaccine research, development and delivery to date across its entire disease portfolio since its inception.’

The press release focuses on deaths, but it is easy to think that there will be wider benefits. I personally would want for more emphasis, over and above deaths, on reducing disease (with deaths or not) as much as that is harder to “sell” in the mainstream media. Any parent will know the burden of looking after sick children. In a setting of poverty, it must weigh down their already difficult lives. Likewise, these illnesses must divert limited hospital resources.

They cite as an example of the value of increased vaccine programs a very recent account in New England Journal of Medicine reporting the effectiveness of the rotavirus trials in South Africa and Malawi, where efficacies of 76.9% and 49.4%, respectively, were observed. As this vaccine confers some “herd” protection, it would be expected to show higher efficacies in a nation-wide program compared to a trial. (So-called herd immunity is where mass vaccination protects a minority without the vaccine or for whom the vaccine did not “take”.) This report briefly looks at a lot of issues, such as the impact on children with AIDS.

The Foundation’s website includes their Decade of vaccines pages and a number of videos, such as Melinda Gates speaking about rotavirus vaccination. (I seem to be unable to embed these here.)

(Image source: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)

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