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Business As Usual

Immunization: An innovative strategy in race to save lives

Ralph Fajardo - The Philippine Star
Immunization: An innovative strategy in race to save lives
Dr. Temi Folaranmi, MSD’s Global Vaccines Medical Affairs director

MANILA, Philippines — Next to the use of clean water in helping prevent illnesses, the advent of vaccines has long been considered as one of the modern world’s greatest scientific breakthroughs in significantly reducing diseases, disability and deaths worldwide.

In medicine, the vaccination narrative is one of the groundbreaking public health success stories in history. This is why one of the leading global healthcare companies, MSD, has continuously worked to develop vaccines for more than a century. The growing worldwide need for immunization has led the company to build, modernize, and expand new and existing manufacturing facilities to develop critical vaccines for children, adolescents, and adults.

Aligned with the World Health Organization’s observance of World Immunization Week themed, “Protected Together,” Dr. Temi Folaranmi, public health expert and MSD’s Global Vaccines Medical Affairs director, recently visited the country to discuss the importance of vaccines, immunization programs, and the company’s contributions in helping eliminate some of the world’s most challenging diseases.

Prior to joining MSD, Dr. Folaranmi worked as a clinician in Nigeria, providing medical services in resources poor settings. He also served as a consultant at the Emerging Disease Surveillance and Response at the WHO and was an epidemiologist at the Global Immunization Division of the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Vaccines have long been proven effective in eliminating diseases such as small pox, which had plagued the world for almost 1700 years,” he explained.

“Today, we are close to accomplishing the same feat for polio, with four out of six WHO regions already declared polio-free.”

According to Folaranmi, wild polio virus cases worldwide have since been reduced from 350,000 in 1988, to just 22 in 2017. “I am not aware of any other public health intervention that was able to make such a dramatic impact in terms of disease reduction globally,” he said.

At times, the science of vaccination intimidates the public, which hinders them to accept it as a form of primary disease prevention. To ground us, Dr. Folaranmi shared an analogy – that a world without vaccines and herd immunity is akin to a world with a nuclear apocalypse. “In 1990, about 12 million children have died due to vaccine-preventable diseases. From the latest report of the WHO, value of vaccines was again underscored, with two to three million lives potentially protected from life-threatening illnesses each year globally. By considering the unseen daily cruelty of child deaths and comparing it to discrete tragic events, we can find a sense of perspective about the scale involved.”

Despite this healthcare intervention, challenging infections remain to be a threat to life that could be easily prevented, if only the benefits of immunization would reach more people.

A commitment to lasting cures and prevention

The burden of diseases intensifies MSD’s commitment to create solutions against sicknesses that inflict people worldwide. Its anthem, “Inventing for Life”, encapsulates this vision and the company’s efforts to explore and innovate on the capacities of world-class science. MSD’s quest for scientific discovery has since led to pioneering research and development, creating new technologies, medicines, and vaccines that would help address the unmet healthcare needs of patients and society.

In fact, the company currently makes vaccines for 11 out of the 17 diseases recommended by the CDC for immunization schedules. Its medicines and research priorities have likewise been aligned with current and projected global burden of disease as defined by the WHO.

Pneumococcal disease, for one, which includes illnesses such as pneumonia, bacteremia and meningitis, is a serious public health problem occurring mainly in children under two years of age and in the elderly worldwide.

“The polysaccharide vaccine has been around for over 35 years now and scientific studies have shown that it has contributed to the reduction of pneumococcal disease in countries that included it in their national immunization program. I would encourage the Philippine government to also include special populations like people living with HIV and immunocompromising conditions in its expanded program on immunization,” he added.

Dr. Folaranmi reiterated that vaccination is an essential, cost-effective tool in inhibiting the spread of diseases and there is an urgent need to continuously build the trust and confidence of the public to increase vaccine uptake and coverage. “Vaccine confidence exists when there is trust in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, trust in the systems that deliver them and the people that administer them, and trust in the decision-making and decision-makers that govern the provision of vaccines.”

In order to improve vaccine confidence, Dr. Folaranmi explained the need for a multi-pronged approach. “The first pillar is focused on individual and community engagement, promoting demand for vaccination and recognition of the value of such health intervention. The second pillar is ensuring that there are evidence-based policies, strong health systems, and good program coordination. The third pillar is ensuring that there is leadership and commitment – from across the government and from stakeholder groups. Health authorities cannot stand alone and need the vocal support of key stakeholders such as medical societies and civil society groups.”

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