More than 200 years on from the discovery of the first vaccine against smallpox, Professor Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London and President of the British Society for Immunology, says we cannot afford to be complacent about vaccines.
Professor Peter Openshaw. Image credit: Imperial College London.
As a clinician working in research, I want to improve peoples’ health. The NHS was set up to focus on treating people with disease. But how much better would it be if we could prevent people from getting sick in the first place?
This is where vaccines come in. As vaccinologists, we use our scientific knowledge to design new or improved vaccines to stimulate the immune system. This creates natural protection against infections and prevents disease.
For the first time, after eight years of collaborative work, results are published in Lancet Infectious Disease describing the positive impact of the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines in a low-income country. But how do you go about measuring this ‘impact’? Principal Investigator of the Pneumococcal Surveillance Project at MRC Unit, The Gambia, Dr Grant Mackenzie, explains the human resource required for large-scale disease surveillance in rural Africa, the challenges and the rewards.
The study team
Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacterium known as Streptococcus pneumoniae. Symptoms range from sinus and ear infections to pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and meningitis. The pneumococcus bacteria cause more deaths in children worldwide than any other single microorganism and those in low-income countries are particularly at risk.
MRC Unit, The Gambia has conducted pneumococcal research for over two decades. It started with a disease burden study in 1989, in the Basse area in the rural east of The Gambia, which established the substantial burden of invasive pneumococcal disease.
Dr Olubukola Idoko is a clinical trial coordinator and paediatrician at MRC Unit, The Gambia. Here she tells us about a recent trial of a multi-dose pneumococcal disease vaccine, and why even the crazy hours are worthwhile.
Olubukola ‘Bukky’ Idoko
Throughout my medical training I always felt I wanted to do something with a focus on preventative medicine, impacting many people at once rather than individual patients every day. I realised this played an important role in solving health challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa.
After finishing my medical training at the Jos University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, I did some research and found that The Gambia had done well with their immunisation programmes for a small West African country. This led me to MRC Unit, The Gambia in 2010 and I’ve been here ever since.