Experts are calling for a broader view of how to measure the value of vaccination to public health. Contrary to popular belief, vaccines do not need to be 100% effective to significantly reduce the public health burden of major diseases.
In the 20th century, vaccines against common and highly infectious diseases such as measles were developed – saving millions of lives every year.
However, while the research that led to those vaccines was undoubtedly complex and ground-breaking, diseases such as measles were low-hanging fruit compared to dengue, malaria, and other vector-borne illness.
Indeed, the challenge was so great that some considered it technically impossible to invent vaccines against them, prompting public health authorities to focus on mosquito control measures.
But they were wrong. Science has risen to the challenge and developed vaccines that protect against these devastating diseases.
The trouble is that while measles and hepatitis A vaccines protect almost everyone who receives their shots, many other vaccines do not achieve such high efficacy.
We accept success rates for cancer medication, for example, that are well below 50% but past experience has raised our expectations of vaccination.
With the arrival of the first dengue vaccine – and as scientists work on malaria and Zika vaccines – some epidemiologists and economists want a rethink of how vaccine impact is evaluated.
If a disease causes tens of millions of deaths, isn’t a modestly effective vaccine going to have a huge impact on the contribution of disease to reduced public health?
To borrow an extreme analogy, would you rather have 10% of Bill Gates’ fortune or 100% of your own?
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