From the editor: Trusting the science

There’s no escaping it, the past year has definitely been the year of the vaccine, says DDW Editor Lu Rahman. And it looks like it may continue for some time yet. Of course immunisation is nothing new – some reports say that Buddhist monks were drinking snake venom back in the 17th century to achieve immunity to snake bites – but in the past 12 months, it has taken on a new, very serious meaning.

We are well aware of the benefits of immunisation – it has had a huge effect on the transmission of smallpox for example. Our children have been receiving the MMR vaccine for years, the annual flu jab rollout in the UK has become a regular date in the diary for many sections of the community, and the more recent HPV vaccine is a significant step forward in the prevention of cervical cancer.

In recent years we have also witnessed the role that molecular genetics has had to play in the advancement of recombinant hepatitis B vaccines.

Therapeutic vaccines are also gaining ground – this issue for example features Allergy Therapeutics, a company which is looking at a potential peanut allergy vaccine. This is a huge development. According to Allergy UK food allergy affects 3-6% of children in the developed world and in the UK, it is thought that the prevalence for food allergy is 7.1% in breast-fed infants, with one in 40 developing peanut allergy.

This, however, is the public face of vaccinations – the end result, the large-scale appreciation and of course, the roll-out. But behind the scenes, we know the situation is very different. If anything the push to find a vaccine for Covid-19 has heavily underlined the work that this area of research involves. Like it or not, it has drawn our attention to the entire vaccination development process – from lab to healthcare setting. How many more people now understand the work that goes into developing these products, the clinical trials and approval processes too? Before Covid many people probably gave this very little thought. In what has been a relatively short space of time, the world has opened its eyes to the research, development and manufacturing process behind a jab.

For me, what it has also highlighted is the ongoing need for education, that we need to get more people to trust in the science. Scare stories about vaccines altering our DNA, that the approvals process has not been as robust as it should be, and of course, the relentless chatter from vaccine deniers, means there is work to be done to ensure more sections of society understand the benefits of being vaccinated. As we travel down this road, it’s very clear that Covid-19 will be with us for some time to come, in the same way that vaccines have been a part of our drive to eradicate illness for centuries. As variants emerge, vaccines will be tweaked and we need to ensure a longlasting message about the positives of being vaccinated reaches all parts of our global communities.

Volume 22, Issue 2 – Spring 2021

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