By Rachel Iannotti
In honor of August being National Immunization Awareness month, there seems to be no better time to discuss the ever-intriguing, sadly-still-debated, vital field of vaccination safety. Vaccines have played a crucial role in adaptive immunity, disease eradication, and global public health campaigns. The most well-known historical example is the smallpox vaccine, a derivative of the first-ever vaccine used against cowpox; the smallpox vaccine was first developed in 1798. Thanks to several public health initiatives and the tireless teamwork between scientists and communities, the smallpox vaccine completed its mission of disease eradication less than two centuries later in 1980. Despite this and countless other feats of virology and immunization technology, the efficacy, efficiency, and safety of vaccinations are still questioned. Thus, it seemed important to share some recent vaccination news and breakthroughs that are due for some awareness and recognition.
Fresh on the world’s mind is the COVID-19 vaccine, including boosters and the long-awaited new shot that carries promise of protection against Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. Regarding boosters, the CDC has updated their recommendation to include everyone ages 6 months and older and booster eligibility for everyone ages 5 and older. For those 50 years of age and older, as well as any persons over the age of 12 who are severely or moderately immunocompromised, it is recommended that they receive two boosters. It is also recommended that boosters (be it the first or second) be administered five months after the most recent COVID vaccination1. Note: this may differ depending on an individual’s age and individual health status, so it is important to speak to your doctor before pursuing any vaccine.
The current worries regarding the leading Omicron sub-variants’ apparent evasiveness will hopefully be alleviated when the next series of boosters are set to make an appearance, expected sometime in late fall. Pfizer is the only manufacturer that has spoken on these claims, telling NBC News they could have a new booster ready for distribution as soon as October2.
COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker Stats (as of Aug. 1st, provided by WHO4):
- # of vaccines in clinical development: 169
- % of the world population that has received at least one dose: 67%
- # of doses administered globally: 12.34 billion
There have been mounting concerns regarding the monkeypox outbreak; the World Health Organization declared it a public health emergency of international concern. And while vaccines exist for pre- and post-exposure patients, the dissemination and access to the vaccines have been challenging. Both vaccines available in the US, ACAM2000 and JYNNEOS, were initially developed for smallpox, taking us full circle, and continue to be kept in a national stockpile.
Lack of targeting at-risk populations and slow roll out of monkeypox vaccine distribution has occurred nationally, further hindered by federal roadblocks in releasing some of the supply. It is easy to fall into fear in such uncertain times, but now more than ever, our communities need to stand firm together. Currently, monkeypox vaccine eligibility hedges on two criteria per CDC recommendation5: 1) persons who have been identified by public health officials as a contact of someone with monkeypox and 2) persons who may have been exposed to monkeypox. Most current medical advice promotes prevention through avoidance of close contact and proper implementation of protective measures.
The future is bright for messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, which are center stage for the most extensive vaccine campaign in history. mRNA vaccines teaching cells how to spawn viral protein, thus walking the immune system through a mock invasion, is in no way a small feat. Such vaccine innovations have been accomplished by several virologists and immunologists alike in the dash to protect the world from COVID-19. Thanks to this eager burst of ingenuity, several other viruses appear on the horizon of defeat as immunization technology advances, and with it, our understanding of tackling some of the world’s most devastating diseases. Next up on the mRNA vaccine hit list are influenza, HIV, and Zika virus. All three have been a part of recent research to assess vaccination efficacy and safety, some as far as the clinical trial stage3.
Rachel Iannotti is a first-year MPH student in The Graduate School at Northwestern University. She has participated in research endeavors primarily focused on neuroscience and its influences on health and human performance. Her outreach work includes a prior internship with the VISN 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans, participation in the PPH Student Senate and Northwestern Public Health Review and work as a substitute teacher and clinical volunteer.