The International Vaccine Institute (Director: John D. Clemens), the only international organization headquartered in Korea, is hosting a vaccinology training course for experts at its new headquarters building on the campus of Seoul National University from March 8 to 13. The annual training course comes at a time when public interest in new vaccines remains high amid the lingering threat of emerging diseases.
Some 40 scientists and public health officials from over 20 countries are attending the course, titled "the International Advanced Course on Vaccinology in Asia Pacific Regions." The primary goal of the program is to help developing countries build capacity in epidemiology, development, evaluation, and introduction of new vaccines.
The need for strengthening surveillance and monitoring of infectious diseases, and expertise in vaccine development in the Asia Pacific region has been especially heightened by the recent emergence of bird flu and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). In this regard, Dr. John Clemens stressed the need that the world be ready for more emerging diseases.
"It is the nature of epidemics to be unpredictable. Unanticipated outbreaks will continue to be a reality, and the world must be ready to move in whatever direction is needed."
The emergence of these diseases also provides dramatic examples of both the power of current technologies and the limitations of current vaccine manufacturing capacity to respond to a potential pandemic.
"While animal models were rapidly established and candidate vaccines developed and evaluated for safety in laboratory animals, it will be some time before such vaccines can be evaluated for safety and efficacy in man," said Dr. Ian Gust, emeritus professor of Melbourne University and world´s authority in virus.
"A major limitation for control of these emerging diseases is the lack of dedicated production facilities to the large scale," Dr. Gust said. The current global capacity for production of monovalent influenza vaccines is no more than 750 million doses per year--far less than adequate to control a global pandemic, he noted.
Experts say vaccines will not only need to be developed for emerging diseases, but also for neglected diseases afflicting developing countries such as cholera, typhoid fever, and pneumonococal diseases, which are claiming the lives of millions of children yearly.
Despite recent advances in public health, the world´s poorest regions are still suffering a heavy toll of premature death and disability from infectious diseases for which vaccines do not exist or else need to be improved. Infectious diseases are still responsible for around a third of all deaths, killing at least 15 million people a year. Of those, more than 5 million are children under five.
Apart from being one of the most cost-effective public health interventions, vaccines are vital for economic and social reasons. Poverty begets illness, which further begets further poverty, creating a vicious cycle. Immunization, together with other low-cost interventions, can break that vicious cycle.
In this regard, Dr. Gust said, "Given the connection between poverty, and communal unrest, perhaps one of the best interests of the war on terrorism would be a war on poverty, and one key component of these efforts would be bridging the gap between the vaccines available in the developed and developing worlds."