Vaccination, before and after Covid-19

published on Sunday 08 May 2022 at 07:00

The annual production, pre-epidemic, was 5 billion doses of vaccines… To which were added at least 11 billion doses of Covid vaccine produced in 2021

It’s never been talked about as much as it has been since the Covid-19 pandemic: overview of the vaccine industry.

For what, for whom?

There now exists vaccines for more than 20 life-threatening diseases and vaccination canavoid 2 to 3 million deaths per yearaccording to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Until Covid-19, vaccination was usually about specific categories: children (polio, etc.) but also the elderly or immunocompromised people, with, for example, the flu vaccine.

The annual production, pre-epidemic, was 5 billion doses… To which were added at least 11 billion doses of Covid vaccine produced in 2021.

If a serum was quickly found for the coronavirus, that is still not the case for many infectious diseases, such as HIV. In addition, the vaccine disparity highlighted by the pandemic relates to other pathogenic viruses or bacteria. According to Inserm, 140,000 deaths from measles were recorded worldwide in 2018, mostly among children in low-income countries.

Different technologies

Since the discovery of the first smallpox vaccine by British physician Edward Jenner in the 18th century, the range of serums has expanded significantly. The most traditional are vaccines that use virus inactivated technology : the virus is killed but retains its ability to induce the production of antibodies (influenza vaccine). Virus technology says weakened is close: the infectious agent is weakened through various chemical processes (MMR vaccine: measles, mumps, rubella, etc.).

Other technologies have been added recently, such as: subunit vaccinesor viral vector vaccines : The latter use an adenovirus as a “vector” to present the immune system with a fragment of the virus against which we want the body to make antibodies (vaccine against Ebola).

latest arrivals, messenger RNA vaccinesnever marketed before 2020. With this serum, the cells of the human body are prompted to produce, from fragments of injected messenger RNA, a piece of the Sars-Cov2 virus against which they will train to defend themselves.

new actors

Traditionally, the world of vaccines has been limited to a few large labs because the investment required to develop a new serum is very large. “It was the domain of a few happy few. The messenger RNA redistributes the cards,” said Loïc Plantevin, a health expert at the consultancy Bain and Company.

Four giants concentrated 90% of the pre-pandemic market: the Americans Pfizer and Merck, the British GSK and the French Sanofi. But no one, except Pfizer – only through a collaboration with the German biotech BioNTech – has managed to push itself into the race against the Covid.

The Covid-19 pandemic has revolutionized this closed sector with the rise of biotech companies such as BioNTech and the American Modernathe origin of the first RNA vaccines.

Without forgetting the new production regions. Faced with unequal access to doses, WHO has launched a program to establish RNA vaccine sites in six African countries by 2024.

There are other initiatives, such as a collaboration between Drew Weissman, one of the developers of messenger RNA technology, and Thailand to provide access to vaccines to populations in low-income countries.

Important actions for health sovereignty, but only possible for the messenger RNA technique, believes Loïc Plantevin, for whom “traditional technologies remain complicated to deploy and move”.

Which paths for the future?

With the Covid billions of dollars have irrigated the infectious diseases sector, which for large labs is often less thriving than therapeutic areas such as oncology.

Since then, the initiatives have multiplied. In particular, Moderna wants to promote the development of vaccines against dengue fever, Ebola or malaria. Sanofi, which suffered a setback in the face of Covid, has also made huge investments in RNA vaccines.

Will messenger RNA be the answer to all infectious diseases? Will we soon have an HIV vaccine? “RNA technology still needs time, with improvements,” warns Loïc Plantevin. Especially for conservation, a weak point of this technology.

“However, the pandemic has accelerated and reminded of the need to continue innovation in vaccines,” adds the specialist.

Nobel Prize in Medicine and virologist Charles Rice told AFP in late 2020:In any case, the Covid crisis has “really changed the way we do science, to make it a collaborative effort instead of working in different isolated labs like we did years ago”.

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