Since the year 2000, the number of global measles cases has dropped 67%, with under 300,000 cases reported worldwide in 2013. This is a huge step forward for measles elimination, and a new method of vaccine delivery could reduce the number of cases even further.
This new method involves inhaling the vaccine.
For years, the measles vaccine has been delivered via a process similar to how children get ‘astronaut ice cream:’ the freeze drying process. The vaccine is first frozen and then put into a low-pressure environment which allows the frozen solid vaccine to transition directing into a gas (called sublimation). What remains is a vaccine ‘powder’.
This powder can then be sent around the world. With the addition of water, the measles vaccine can then be created. While turning vaccine into powder is a great process for transfer, there is one drawback. Once reconstituted, the vaccine will only last about one hour before it loses its potency. This is a serious problem in developing regions of the world where individuals may have to travel long distances for care.
A new study, partially funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, shows that inhaling this vaccine powder, however, may be just as effective as injecting it by using a needle and syringe. Interestingly, this method of inhaling a vaccine has been around for hundred of years (there was a Chinese method of smallpox vaccination that used it), and there is already a nasal spray influenza vaccine, FluMist, which functions off of similar principles.
Powdered vaccine delivery in the fight against measles could be a game changer in helping more individuals in rural areas to receive the care that they otherwise would not be able to receive; however, the fight is far from over. More studies into the merits of this method are needed before a large-scale rollout can occur, and the new delivery method must of course be thoroughly integrated into a comprehensive vaccination program in order to fully wipe out dangerous diseases like measles.
But, a powdered vaccine, if approved, could well be the next major step forward in the fight to eradicate a virus that kills almost 150,000 people each year.
What novel methods of vaccine delivery are you aware of? Comment below or on the Passport Health Facebook page and let us know your thoughts!