Half of the vaccines sent to developing countries are lost as they deteriorate during transportation, but a new EU-sponsored project may solve the problem.
Every year, 22 million people in the world do not receive the necessary vaccines they need. One of the reasons is that vaccines must be kept at exactly the right temperature, between 2-8 degrees celsius, or else their quality and effectiveness deteriorates.
This makes it hard to transport the vaccines, and handle them at their destination, as infrastructure and electricity conditions in some developing countries are not in line with the necessary storage requirements.
"We will get the vaccines there, but we have to spend more resources trying to keep the vaccines cold which we could have spent on something else. Vaccines have different levels of sensitivity so for different vaccines for example against lung infections, we have to throw away 50%," Eva Dalekant, project support officer at UNICEF, told the Swedish TV station, SVT.
The challenges are even greater with vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhea, which have become more expensive and take up more space during transportation. These two illnesses are the biggest causes of mortality among small children today.
"The vaccines which we have used for a long time now such as polio, tetanus and measles have gotten cheaper enough so that we can afford that a certain amount deteriorates and we can therefore send a bigger amount. But that won't last in the future," Dalekant said.
As it is difficult to figure out whether a vaccine has been damaged by the wrong temperature, many children are likely to get vaccines with little or no effect. But developing vaccines that are not temperature sensitive is a big challenge.
"It's not that we don't want to create vaccines that can handle warmer temperatures, but if we had this kind of problem in the western world, we would probably spend more money on the issue," Matti Sällberg, professor of Biomedical Analysis at The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said.
The EU has launched earlier this year a competition to find a project susceptible to find a solution. The project to be given €2.2 million is due to be selected in December.
"I can say that the jury has found a contribution which has a new way of thinking when it comes to a solution and the potential to eliminate the need for cooling during the transportation of the vaccines. But it's also a new technology which has not been tried out to a large extent yet," Jeremy Bray of the European Commission's research and innovation directorate said.
Because of advances in medical science, children can be protected against more diseases than ever before.
Some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of children, have been eliminated completely and others are close to extinction, primarily due to safe and effective vaccines.
One example of the great impact that vaccines can have is the elimination of polio in many countries.
Polio was once one of the world's most-feared diseases, causing widespread death and paralysis, but today, thanks to vaccination, there are only small number of reported cases.
- Dec. 2013: The Commission to announce winner of the contest for vaccine transportation.
- SVT: Wrong temperature deteriorates amounts of vaccines [In Swedish]