Future-proofing children’s health through immunisation  

26 Apr, 2024

This World Immunisation Week, Penta – Child Health Research proudly recognises 50 years of progress in child immunisation and the power of vaccines in protecting preventable diseases. Vaccination programs worldwide have saved millions of children’s lives and continue to be a powerful tool for promoting global health equity. 

However, despite the undeniable benefits of vaccines for children, a concerning gap exists. Vaccines for children often lag behind adult vaccines due to a smaller market size, stricter safety testing needs and a focus on adult-threatening outbreaks. This gap became more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic where vaccines for adult vaccines were developed first. These adult versions of the COVID-19 vaccine took an unprecedentedly short amount of time to develop, but ensuring their safety and efficacy for children added several months to the vaccine development process which was initiated much later. 

Thankfully, there’s growing momentum to bridge this gap. Initiatives by global health organisations and public-private partnerships, like our recent collaboration with IAVI and Achilles Vaccines, are propelling research by highlighting the long-term societal benefits of healthy children. This collaboration specifically focuses on developing new monoclonal antibody treatments to combat paediatric HIV infections, emerging infections, and neglected diseases.   

While vaccines are crucial for childhood health, a powerful tool often goes unnoticed: maternal immunisation. During pregnancy, mothers can be vaccinated against specific diseases, like influenza, and even COVID-19. These vaccinations trigger the creation of antibodies that pass through the placenta to the baby, providing vital protection in the first vulnerable months of life, before they can receive their own vaccines. This approach, known as maternal immunisation, is a win-win for mothers and babies.  

Projects like VERDI play an important role in understanding how emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19 variants and mpox affect pregnant people, children and high-risk populations, and improve knowledge around vaccine effectiveness in these underserved populations. This knowledge is essential for developing targeted prevention and treatment strategies to protect pregnant people, people who have had babies and children. 

Previous research in Guinea-Bissau has also shown that live attenuated vaccines enhance the capacity of a woman’s subsequent children to obtain a beneficial effect of the live vaccines received in infancy (BCG, measles vaccine, oral polio vaccine). Dr. Silva, one recipient of the Penta Brighter Future Award, is further exploring these findings as the Principal Investigator of a trial examining the potential benefits of providing live vaccines to women of fertile age for themselves and their children.

This World Immunisation Week, we reaffirm our commitment to child health research and innovation and celebrate and elevate those working to ensure that vaccines are safe and effective not only in adults but also children and pregnant people as well.