A Vaccine for Everything? Is that Good?

August 24, 2007

Wow, I could definitely move in here. The weather is nice, it's warm, my stuff will fit, and I can procreate. Wait& road block? I don't remember making a wrong turn.

Wow, I could definitely move in here. The weather is nice, it’s warm, my stuff will fit, and I can procreate. Wait… road block? I don’t remember making a wrong turn. Gosh, the wind is really starting to pick up. I feel cold. It’s hard to— to move. What is…what is that light? Oh well. At least it’s getting warmer… warm, white light…

If only we could talk to bacteria, we might start to see things from their point-of-view. Think about it. How would you feel? You’re strolling along, ready to move into your new home, when bam! A bulldozer whizzes by you, knocking your house down. Or, the old tenants refuse to budge. It took you years just to close on this location, which boasts all the good schools. But, like most neighborhoods, this one is overpopulated. And who wants to live in an overpopulated area? More people breed more diseases.

How do we combat the bacteria and rampant disease we have essentially self-produced in mass quantities, blindingly? That’s where vaccination comes into play. Defined as “the administration of antigenic material to produce immunity to a disease, which will prevent… the effects of infection by a pathogen,” vaccinations prevent us from getting sick and aid in our ability to fight illness. Yet, according to overpopulation predictions by Wikipedia, “increased incidence of infectious diseases from crowding” just may be our society’s downfall.

At the same time, perhaps we have let our fear of germs go too far. How else do you explain the abundance of antibacterial products available in stores today? A study reported on this month, evaluating the effectiveness of consumer antibacterial soaps in effectively combating harmful bacteria, determined that many household soaps containing triclosan—an antibacterial ingredient—actually kill good bacteria that fight bad germs.

Are we overdoing it? Or, to take it from the bacteria’s perspective, are we pricing ourselves right out of town?

We have also gotten a little “vaccine-happy” in our attempts to ward off bad germs. Here are just a few that you may already be familiar with; some you may not; and others that are on the way and a long time coming.

Anthrax

You know terrorism abounds when there’s an actual anthrax vaccine in the works. According to a Reuters article, the secret is in the adjuvant, a compound commonly added to vaccines to make them stimulate the immune system more effectively. Further testing revealed that two administrations led to six months of protection. Whereas exposure to anthrax causes a skin infection that can commonly be treated with antibiotics, the “powdered spores can be inhaled and cause a hard-to-recognize infection, making anthrax an ideal biological weapon.” Also ideal, the needle-free vaccine can be squirted up the nose. Take that, chemical warfare.

Chicken Pox

A common and mild childhood disease that causes a rash, itching, fever, and fatigue, among other symptoms, chicken pox is fairly benign. However, it is the safety of the vaccine that makes it more appealing than the disease itself, naturally. Just two doses (one at age 12-15 months, the other at 4-6 years) are enough to prevent those nasty chicken pox blisters that form from too much scratching.

HPV

One of the latest vaccination crazes to hit your office may be that of the human papillomavirus (HPV), encouraged in women age 11-26 years in June 2006 by the FDA. The vaccine is most effective in women who have not yet acquired any of the four HPV types covered by the vaccine. Controversy surrounding the relatively new vaccine revolves around issues of encouraging promiscuity. Tell that to the 20 million people infected with HPV to date, 80% of whom are women younger than age 50 years.

Additional downfalls? Most insurance plans will only cover the vaccination through females up to age 26 years. Your patients may be on their own until substantial-enough research proves the efficacy of the vaccine in patients beyond their mid-twenties. Until then, they should be prepared to cough up the hefty $165 cost for one dose. Combined with the as-of-yet-unproven immunity effects, they may be better off holding out for that anthrax vaccine they always wanted.

Multiple Sclerosis

As recently as two weeks ago, a 30-patient study was conducted to determine the efficacy of a vaccine that promised to ward off the muscle-weakening neurological disease, multiple sclerosis (MS). Tagged BHT-3009, the drug has proven its tolerance and safety, but the jury is still out on any definitive long-term effects. “If successful in MS, antigen-specific DNA vaccines can be developed for prevention or treatment of related diseases, such as type 1 diabetes mellitus, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and myasthenia gravis.” Like most drugs in limbo, the benefits remain to be seen.

How Do We Combat the Big Killers?AIDS

The International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is a global, non-profit organization with a mission to “ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world.” Current research and development efforts during the last six years have led to clinical trials for a vaccine in more than 11 countries worldwide (including the US). The AIDS pandemic affects nearly 40,000 Americans every year and “cannot be stopped without a vaccine.” Yet here we are, nearly 20 years later since AIDs was discovered, and research has yet to make any conclusive dents on the impact of the fast-increasing disease.

Cancer

Intended to either treat existing cancers or prevent developing ones, a cancer vaccine would strengthen the body’s natural defenses against the disease. Currently, two vaccines—one for hepatitis B, the other for HPV (see above)—have been licensed by the FDA to prevent the cancer-causing infections perpetuated by the diseases. However, an actual agent that prevents cancer, in its myriad of forms, is far down the road.

Perhaps we have ourselves to blame for these progressive illnesses. After all, bacteria would be much less inclined to move in if we did not make the environment so appealing.

Did we leave any out? Add a comment below, write to us at eromanski@mdng.com, or post your own MDNG.com blog on the topic!