Wednesday, September 25, 2013

SMART Vaccines

Fears about vaccine side effects are one of the common reasons those who choose not to vaccinate use. Researchers at UConn and UC Davis recently developed a Safety Mechanism Assisted by the Repressor of Tetracycline or “SMART” virus vector for use in vaccines and therapeutics.  Tetracycline is an antibiotic commonly prescribed to treat bacterial infections.

Paulo Verardi is a pathobiologist at UConn with the goal of making vaccines highly safe. “The most effective vaccines tend to be live replicating viruses, the so-called live attenuated vaccines. Vaccina virus, which is used as the smallpox vaccine is a good example While most vaccines are both safe and effective, those based on live viruses can cause problems in some people, so we designed a safety mechanism that can be activated by the administration of tetracycline by making minimal genetic modifications to vaccina virus.”

The smallpox vaccine is still given to members of the U.S. armed forces and first responders because of concerns of smallpox’s use as a bioweapon. The SMART vaccina virus allows the vaccine to be turned off if the person being vaccinated develops rare, but serious complications.

Researchers are hopeful that the Vaccina virus will be a valuable tool in the development of other vaccines besides smallpox. Because it is easy to propagate and doesn’t cause cancer, it is being discussed with AIDS and cancer vaccines for humans and rabies and fertility control vaccines for wildlife. Tests are also being done to see if vaccina virus can stimulate immune responses to cancers and kill cancer cells.

“This built-in safety mechanism has the potential to positively impact the development of the next generation, replication-competent VACV vaccines and therapeutic vectors, possibly allowing treatment of complications from vaccination or therapy to be as simple as standard tetracycline antibiotic treatment,” Verardi concludes.

While vaccine side effects are extremely rare, this technology will allow everyone to be vaccinated for life threatening diseases without worrying about potential side effects.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Who are the Anti-Vaccine People?

A recent article in the Chicago-Sun Times with the title, “Why do rich people hate vaccines?” brought the anti-vaccination movement back to the forefront of media discussion. The author noted that anti-vaccination was picking up steam in many of the country’s wealthier, educated enclaves where parents are interested in living “natural” lifestyles.

For instance, a public elementary school in Malibu reported that only 58 percent of their students are immunized, which is well below the recommended 90 percent. Even worse, at some of Los Angeles’ private schools, only 20 percent of kids are vaccinated.

“Yes, that’s right,” Nina Shapiro, a professor at UCLA medical school and mother of two states. “Parents are willingly paying up to $25,000 a year to schools at which fewer than 1 in 5 kindergartners has been immunized against the pathogens causing such life-threatening illnesses as measles, polio, meningitis and pertussis (whooping cough).”

The situation is not unique to California. In Boulder, Colorado close to 30 percent of children are exempted from at least one vaccine. Ashland, Oregon has some schools where two-thirds of students have exemptions. Michigan, Vermont, Idaho and Oregon all now have more than 5 percent of people choosing not to get vaccines. Illinois is close with 4.8 percent. The national median is 1.8 percent.

Paul Offit is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and notes that a high education level can enhance anti-vax beliefs. “They’re people who believe that they can know anything and know as much as their doctor – if not more – by simply studying it, reading about it,” he said.

This is a well-known problem in Australia. “These are parents who have good information available and yet they are not vaccinating their children,” states Steve Hambleton, president of the Austalian Medical Association. “People have forgotten about the devastating effects of diseases like mumps and measles. That’s probably one reason they are willing to take chances.”

Vaccine Watch encourages people to look for more sources of information about vaccines than information available on the Internet. Doctors and pediatricians have years of education and first-hand knowledge of the dangers of disease and safety and benefits of vaccines. Parents should consult their pediatrician when making vaccine choices for their children.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Ethics of Not Vaccinating

The anti-vaccine movement has been in the news a lot lately. Well-known anti-vaccination advocate Jenny McCarthy started on television’s The View this week, measles outbreaks struck Texas and Wales and children are headed back to school; prompting parents to question vaccine schedules.

During a Season 10 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the hypothetical scenario was a mother who decided not to vaccinate her child for measles based on rumors that the vaccine causes autism. The child contracts measles at age four and passes it on to a one-year old child at the daycare center who is too young for the vaccine. The baby dies in the episode with the title “Selfish.”

A paper in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics explores whether people can be held legally accountable for damage they cause by not vaccinating their children. Bioethicist Arthur L. Caplan is a co-author on the paper and states: “One can make a legitimate, state-sanctioned choice not to vaccinate, but that does not protect the person making the choice against the consequences of that choice for others.” The paper argues that a parent who decides not to vaccinate and endangers another child is clearly at fault and could be charged with criminally negligent homicide or sued for damages.

“Parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids for reasons of personal belief pose a serious danger to the public,” stated Jed Lipinski of the Albuquerque Journal. “Take the San Diego measles outbreak of 2008. After unknowingly contracting the disease on a trip to Switzerland, an unvaccinated 7-year old boy infected 11 other unvaccinated kids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

“The majority of the cases occurred in kids whose parents had requested personal belief exemptions through the state of California,” Lipinski continues. “But three of the infected were either too young or medically unable to be vaccinated. And overall, 48 children too young to be vaccinated were quarantined, at an average cost to the family of $775 per child. The CDC noted that all 11 cases were ‘linked epidemiologically’ to the 7-year old boy and the outbreak response cost the public sector $10,376 per case.”

Caplan, Lipinski and others all agree that the government’s interest in protecting children from getting measles should trump parents’ interest in making medical decisions for their kids. Lipinski believes extra measures need to be taken to ensure non-vaccinators understand the risk they pose to other people’s children.

Vaccine Watch urges parents to seek answers to vaccine questions from their child’s pediatrician. As Caplan and Lipinski point out – choosing not to vaccinate your child can have much greater consequences than most parents realize.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Vaccine News on Hulu TV

Bill Gates
Photo: Getty Images

Hulu TV has several short documentaries dedicated to vaccines and increasing education and awareness about them.  Outer Limits The Vaccine was produced by MGM and is a 45-minute video about a city where a deadly virus has killed most people, but a vaccine becomes available. The plot thickens when only a limited number of vaccines are available.

The other documentary that intrigued Vaccine Watch was The Vaccine According to Bill Gates. This 50-minute presentation that was released in 2013 talks about the search for a malaria vaccine and public health being funded by private funds. One of Bill Gates’ personal goals is to eradicate malaria from the planet. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested over $200 million into funding the research of the RTS,S malaria vaccine with the goal of protecting millions of children and saving thousands of lives.

Research into a malaria vaccine is not new, and has been going on for the last twenty-five years. Other researchers are also developing several other malaria vaccines. Malaria is a difficult vaccine to develop because of the radically different stages of the disease, both morphologically and physiologically. It also mutates once in the bloodstream and builds resistance to drugs. The different vaccines are targeting different stages of malaria in humans; MSP3 is another of the vaccines being developed. Both RTS,S and MSP3 are still developing the best way to increase efficacy rates of their respective vaccines, which have been well below expectations.

Bill Gates notes, “…vaccines are a great technology and investment.” The Gates Foundation is the second largest contributor to the World Health Organization (WHO) behind the United States Government.  Some have questioned private funds in the realm of public health – and noted that the Gates Foundation began in 2000 while Microsoft was facing an anti-trust lawsuit from the U.S. Government. Questions about the price of the malaria vaccine when it is developed have also arisen, and the correlation was made that the price of the vaccine will be related to the patent. Those who believe that private funds shouldn’t be involved in public health state it’s a citizen’s right to have access to a vaccine. Even at a profit of five percent, the development and sale of a malaria vaccine will be very lucrative for the company that manufactures it. Gates counters that technology should not just be for the richest, and that the vaccine will be available for everyone.

The definitive results of the RTS,S vaccine will not be known until 2014. The other vaccines continue to be researched as well. Vaccine Watch supports the development of life-saving vaccines. In this situation, private funds have allowed decades-long research to progress more quickly.