More than 20 life-threatening diseases -including COVID-19- can currently be prevented thanks to immunization. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers vaccines essential and that form part of the basis of global health security.
The power and importance of vaccines has been evidenced historically and over the years. In fact, the GAVI Vaccination Alliance, points out that between 1990 and 2017, immunization helped halve the number of deaths in children under five years of age, while in low-income countries it saves five lives per minute, preventing up to three million deaths globally each year.
For this reason and within the framework of the World Immunization Week -which is commemorated from April 23 to 30, Pfizer Latin America organized a virtual forum to call for the use of vaccines and help prevent and protect people of all ages from deadly, infectious, viral or chronic diseases.
In his opening message, Carlos Murillo, regional president of Pfizer Latin America, celebrated that “we are witnesses of one of the largest immunization campaigns in historya, however, the challenges are still great in terms of vaccination since there are so many other diseases that we can prevent to save millions of lives”.
During the session it was recognized that the pandemic led to a decline in the number of people immunized for other diseases. It is estimated that, over the last two years, the vaccination coverage rate in the region fell from 86% (2019) to 50% (2021). Proof of this is the setback of almost three decades of progress in polio and measles. Vaccination coverage for other childhood diseases has also receded, with diphtheria and yellow fever threatening to resurface unless countries take urgent action.
More than 20 life-threatening diseases -including COVID-19- can be prevented thanks to immunization
Scope of vaccines against COVID-19
Within the forum, it was highlighted how the last two years have shown the scope of innovation and advances in science in the world. On the one hand, a historic vaccination campaign was implemented that has so far allowed the application of 11.4 billion dose against Covid-19 in 184 countries, which represents 58.8% of the population with a complete scheme.
On the other hand, since its announcement of manufacturing and distribution, Pfizer and BioNTech they have delivered 3.3 billion vaccines in 179 countries and territories in all regions of the world. It should be noted that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine has an age range from 5 years and older according to the most important regulatory bodies in the world such as the FDA and the EMA, which has made it possible to begin immunizing the pediatric population in different countries.
It should be noted that, to reach this goal, the role of Latin America has been essential at different stages. An example of this was the role of research as part of the clinical study of COVID-19 vaccinewhere Argentina was the site with the most patient enrollment in the world. Nor fail to highlight Mexico, which was one of the first nations in the world to approve and apply the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine (December 24, 2019).
Likewise, it is important to note that during 2021 the signing of a letter of intent was announced with the Eurofarma laboratory, a Brazilian biopharmaceutical company, for the manufacture of the COVID-19 vaccine and its distribution in Latin America. At its maximum capacity, Eurofarma could produce 100 million doses annually for its exclusive distribution in the region. Mentioning this fact during his presentation, Carlos Murillo stressed that “this represents a great boost for immunization in the Latin American population and to ensure a more efficient path for the distribution of vaccines in our countries.”
Pfizer and BioNTech have delivered 3.3 billion vaccines in 179 countries and territories in all regions of the world
But… What is the future of vaccines?
During the forum in the framework of the World Immunization Week There was also the presence of the Leader of Scientific and Medical Affairs for North America of the Pfizer Vaccines division, Dr. Alejandro Cané, and the Medical Leader of Vaccines for Emerging Markets of Pfizer, Dr. Graciela Morales, who delved into the future of vaccines, particularly messenger RNA, and generally disclosed advances in the development of new vaccines.
Dr. Alejandro Cané spoke about Pfizer’s work with messenger RNA technology, emphasizing that “we are advancing rapidly in other research areas of mRNA vaccines and we have our eyes on other infectious diseases, especially viral ones, like the flu and shingles. Our goal is to maintain leadership in mRNA with potential approaches that change the scope of a vaccine.”
The importance and impact of vaccination in children
Another aspect addressed during the virtual forum was the relevance of establishing calendars and basic vaccination schemes to protect millions of children at the right ages and times, preventing injuries, disabilities and even death.
Dr. Carlos Torres, Pediatric Infectologist, member of the Infection Vaccines Committee of the Colombian Society of Pediatrics and the Latin American Society of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, assures that “not getting vaccinated is not a simple act of autonomy and personal decision, but a act against society and each of its members”.
The specialist adds that “vaccine-preventable diseases have the potential to generate outbreaks in the community, epidemics or pandemics. The consequences generated by this transmission to the population, in terms of costs, deaths and suffering, have an impact on everyone, particularly in systems like ours, where health is a public, supportive good, which is why vaccination, along with antibiotics and drinking water, are the three measures that have made it possible to almost double life expectancy in last 150 years.
They highlight the importance of establishing basic vaccination schedules and schemes to protect millions of children
Myths and realities
One of the most relevant topics for the current situation and that was addressed in the virtual space was the concern about the spread of erroneous information that can be as or more harmful than the diseases themselves. For this reason, Dr. Julia SpinardPediatric Infectologist and Leader of Scientific Affairs for Pfizer Emerging Markets, clarified the myths and realities of vaccination and emphasized that one of the priority tasks continues to be providing information and creating awareness about the value of vaccines, the favorable impact of immunization as a key tool to double life expectancy, and combat fake newssince they have put the decision on immunization at stake and, consequently, people’s health and life.
“Misinformation about vaccines has prevented many people from making informed, evidence-based decisions to protect their health, while jeopardizing the public health promoting the resurgence of diseases that are already controlled, eradicated or on the verge of being so” emphasized Dr. Spinardi.
He recalled that in just one year, the vaccines and mass immunization managed to control a pandemic with between 80% and 95% effectiveness in preventing infections, and more than 70% prevention of virus transmission.
Finally, the experts concluded that the last two years have shown the importance of prioritize health above all things and to continue betting on immunization and science.