Vaccine scares and successes

Australia is perhaps second only to the USA in immunisation innovation and implementation with world-leading research on new vaccines like HPV, high-quality surveillance of safety issues (eg intussusception), novel approaches to the age of vaccine delivery (eg pertussis) and with a new intra-dermal delivery method just around corner that has tremendous potential for application in both poor and developed countries.

Periodic vaccine safety scares have the potential to undermine the trust of the public, and even health professionals, in the vaccine program. Concern about the safety of Australia’s own brand of influenza vaccine arose in 2010 with excess reports of febrile convulsions in vaccinated infants; the associated vaccine remains suspended for use in young children while the mechanism of injury is becoming clearer. A national government enquiry, the Horvath review, uncovered room for improvements that are being implemented. Our surveillance will be more active and able to detect new issues earlier. Further innovation in data linkage, with ethical clearance, is coming.

Reflections on the history of vaccine development can inform current approaches if only we take the time to learn those lessons. The recent crop of conjugate vaccines for serious bacterial diseases like meningitis, pneumonia and blood poisoning might have been developed decades earlier and even now there is scope for using them more intelligently. More and more combination vaccines of higher valency have been developed making the issue of safety both harder to address by scientists and higher on the public’s agenda as they question the possibility of antigen overload.

About the Speaker

Professor Robert Booy

Professor Robert Booy is Head of the Clinical Research team at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) where he joined in 2005. He is a medical graduate of the University of Queensland (1984) and trained in Paediatrics at the Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane. His MD is based on Hib immunisation research in Oxford during the 1990s.

He held a range of positions in the UK including Professor of Child Health with the University of London; Lecturer in Paediatric Infectious Diseases at St Mary’s Hospital, London; and was the recipient of a Wellcome training fellowship in epidemiology focusing on genetic factors important in meningococcal disease.
Professor Booys research interests extend from understanding the genetic basis of susceptibility to, and severity of, infectious diseases especially influenza and invasive disease caused by encapsulated organisms, the clinical, public-health, social and economic burden of these diseases, means by which to control serious infections through vaccines, drugs and non-pharmaceutical measures.

Over the past 10 years, Professor Booy has been increasingly recognised as an expert in the influenza field. In addition he has led intervention studies with new vaccines, new vaccine delivery methods and alternate methods for preventing disease.

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Duration 51:35
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