The American Academy for Microbiology convened a colloquium March 4-6, 2005, in Baltimore, Maryland, to discuss vaccines, current infectious disease problems, the potential for new and better vaccines, vaccine safety, research issues surrounding vaccines, and education and training topics. Twenty one experts in vaccine research and development from academia, industry, and government deliberated and determined several recommendations for future progress in creating and applying vaccines.
The success of vaccines in controlling disease has been profound. Many diseases that formerly raged unchecked are now under control and others have been eliminated in parts of the world. Despite this success, many infectious diseases continue to seethe and strike, particularly in developing nations where vaccines are unavailable, unaffordable, or both. Other diseases are poised for upsurges in incidence, either by “natural” (i.e., non-human induced means) or at the hands of bioterrorists. Vaccines are available for some of the diseases that continue to plague humans, but not for others. Even when a licensed vaccine is available for a given disease, numerous barriers can block its use, including technical, economic, cultural, and legal obstacles.
The licensed vaccines currently available are powerful, but in many cases improved formulations are needed that offer better effectiveness, longer protection, or lower production costs. Of course, vaccines are also needed to provide protection from the infectious diseases that have not yet been targeted with a vaccine. Researchers and vaccine developers face a number of hurdles in devising these novel vaccines, including a lengthy sequence of required tests and validation steps.
The safety of vaccines is paramount and has increased enormously during the last two decades. Proven adverse events from the use of licensed vaccines are rare, and vaccines with known safety problems have been removed from the market. Anecdotal links between vaccines and a number of disorders have been discredited, but the controversy over these alleged ties remains. Rational evaluations of vaccine safety need to account not only for the risks, but also the benefits vaccines offer the person vaccinated and his or her community.
Vaccine research can benefit from the use of many promising new approaches and methods. Scientific unknowns with respect to vaccines, including the details about how vaccines work to provide protection and how different types of immunity are induced, stand in the way of further progress and need to be addressed. Much basic research remains to be conducted on these fundamental issues.
Vaccines can enhance the health and well-being of people all over the globe—a fact that needs to be better communicated to the public if misperceptions about vaccine-associated risks are to be overcome. The popular media, educational programs, and government-sponsored campaigns should be put to use in accomplishing greater public awareness of vaccine benefits.