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Why Can’t We Make Better Vaccines?

Some parents who don’t vaccinate and protect their kids claim that they want better and safer vaccines.

Wanting better vaccines doesn't automatically make someone anti-vaccine.

Why does that make them anti-vaccine?

Well, it doesn’t automatically make you anti-anything just because you want things to improve. The “anti-” label comes in when folks start to push misinformation about vaccines, scaring others away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

We all want safer vaccines...

For example, I want safer cars too, but it doesn’t keep me from driving and riding in the cars we have today.

I’m not anti-car…

Why Can’t We Make Better Vaccines?

But back to the idea of better vaccines, can we make vaccines that are more effective and have fewer side effects?

Folks who read anti-vaccine propaganda are made to think that vaccine manufacturers have no incentive to make better vaccines, even as they push the idea that vaccines are dangerous and don’t work.

As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are and they think more about the small risks of adverse events.
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are and they think more about the small risks of adverse events. Photo by WHO

In reality, most vaccines work very well already and they have few risks or side effects.

“There is a 1 in a MILLION chance of getting a serious reaction to a vaccine.”

Making the Vaccine Decision

Still, researchers and vaccine manufacturers are constantly trying to make new and better vaccines.

Unfortunately, there is only so much they can do with current technology.

“The technological approaches for making new vaccines have been growing rapidly in recent decades owing to significant advances in a broad range of interrelated fields, including next-generation sequencing and antibody repertoire analysis, molecular and structural biology, genetics (reverse vaccinology), protein and polysaccharide chemistry, immunology, virology, bacteriology, fermentation, macromolecular purification, and formulation.”

Ahmed et al on Technologies for Making New Vaccines

Hopefully that is starting to change and we will soon get a few new and better vaccines.

A new pertussis vaccine is in phase 2 trials.
This new pertussis vaccine is in phase 2 trials.

In fact, most vaccine advocates are looking forward to having a new pertussis vaccine, Lyme disease vaccine, and a universal flu vaccine, hopefully sooner rather than later.

We will likely even see a new oral polio vaccine to use in outbreak situations soon, even as we get close to withdrawing all use of OPV as part of the endgame strategy!

Making Better Vaccines

And using new technology, we will hopefully have new vaccines against even more diseases.

These technologies include using:

  • a recombinant virus or bacteria
  • a recombinant virus or bacterial vector
  • protein based vaccines with fusion proteins
  • peptide based vaccines with B-cell epitopes
  • peptide based vaccines with T-cell epitopes
  • nucleic acid based vaccines

Researchers are also developing new adjuvants and delivery systems.

“The number of approaches for making new vaccines should continue to expand in the future such that almost all antigens or epitopes could be presented in a highly immunogenic form in the context of a live or inactivated vaccine or be expressed through a DNA-based vaccine. Further understanding of gene function in viral and bacterial pathogens should enable live vaccines to be more stably and predictably attenuated as vaccines and as live vectors for vaccinating against other pathogens. Adjuvant and delivery system technologies should provide formulations that are more potent than aluminum salts, yet are safe and well tolerated, and enable delivery by routes other than injection. Bioinformatics tools should enable the refinement of vaccine antigens to exclude those that are potentially cross-reactive with antigens found in normal human tissue thus limiting the generation of pathogenic autoimmune responses related to molecular mimicry.”

Ahmed et al on Technologies for Making New Vaccines

When can we expect these new vaccines?

Probably not soon enough, as few of these vaccines are in phase III trials.

Many, including vaccines that protect against 2019-nCoV, malaria, HIV, RSV, herpes, etc., will be very welcome by most of us.

Still, while new and some improved vaccines would be great, it is important to understand that the vaccines we have are safe, with few risks, and very necessary.

More on Making Better Vaccines

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