Exclusive interview with Francois Sandre, Head of Asia & JPAC of Sanofi Pasteur on vaccination programmes and how best to proactively tackle them through collaboration and adapting from past lessons.
1. Despite previous efforts by health organisations and governments to implement vaccination programmes, why is there a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases throughout the world?
With the exception of clean, safe drinking water, no human endeavour has rivalled vaccination in combating infectious diseases and reducing mortality rates. This translates into long-term cost savings and potential economic growth.1 We have seen outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases that were previously thought to be under control such as the measles outbreak in the United States and Europe,2 and closer to home, in the Philippines, Thailand and Myanmar.3 Just recently, polio cases were detected in Philippines and Malaysia.4
A number of factors have contributed to these outbreaks, one of which includes low vaccination coverage. The inequities in vaccine coverage leaves certain segment of the population at risk of infectious diseases. When a high number of vulnerable populations are exposed to infection, it can spread rapidly leading to the outbreaks that we are seeing now. Other factors that contribute to low vaccination coverage are lack of access to vaccination services – especially in remote areas – misinformation about vaccines, lack of understanding as well as awareness on the value of vaccination.
2. Why is there a declining trend of vaccination and what can be done to proactively address these challenges?
There is a need for concerted efforts amongst various stakeholders in addressing these challenges, some of which include:
- Developing and implementing continuous awareness and education campaigns to ensure the population receive the right information from credible sources on the importance and benefits of vaccination
- Strengthening the health delivery system providing access even in remote areas.
3. How will collaborations with various private sector organisations and governments help to boost vaccination numbers?
By creating an interconnected and interdependent network of vaccine producers, policy makers, programme implementers, procurers and funders, we can better ensure the continued health of the vaccines ecosystem. This will allow the ability to innovate, produce and deliver vaccines where they are needed most. Partnerships across the ecosystem will enable us to share the best of resources, expertise and skills of each involved sector to help boost vaccination coverage rate.
4. The World Health Organization recently published that wild poliovirus type 3 has been eradicated, what in your opinion attributed to this success?
We have successfully eradicated poliovirus type 2 in 2015 and the eradication of wild poliovirus type 3 has been no easy feat. This milestone achievement is a testament that we can eradicate infectious diseases just like what we did with the smallpox virus. We still need to do more in the quest to eradicate poliovirus type 1 and to ensure that we maintain high vaccination coverage to provide protection to the entire community while overcoming challenges such as geographic isolation, migration and insecurity.5
5. How can the other vaccination programmes learn from the one for polio in the fight for disease eradication?
The near-eradication of polio has been one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Controlling polio has taught us a lot about recovering from setbacks. We have time and again learned, adjusted and moved forward. In fact, the polio programme and its lessons are guiding efforts to eliminate measles and control rubella, a flagship priority programme in WHO South-East Asia Region.6
Some of the key learnings that can be drawn from the fight against polio are:
- Providing support to mobilize and train millions of volunteers and health workers
- Establishing standardised, real-time global surveillance and response capacity7
These lessons reiterate the importance of strong collaboration amongst Immunization partners to sustain and increase vaccination coverage with a strong healthcare system.
6. In what ways has Sanofi Pasteur committed to providing safe and effective vaccines?
For over 100 years, Sanofi Pasteur has been committed to extending the life-saving power of vaccination as broadly as possible. We partner with the public health, medical and scientific communities to improve access to life-protecting vaccines and increase vaccination coverage.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, many discoveries have been made in vaccines. Innovation is crucial. Combination vaccines (which reduce the total number of injections), those that protect against multiple diseases, are one of the strengths of our product range such as our paediatric vaccines. They offer the advantage of simplifying vaccination schedules, decreasing health-related costs, and ensuring better comfort as a result of reduced injections.
Our R&D efforts are composed of various innovations in influenza vaccines with differentiated portfolio ranging from protection against 4 instead of 3 influenza strains to a high-dose flu vaccine that provides greater protection versus conventional vaccines and our latest product that uses recombinant, cell-based technology – a precise manufacturing process which generates an exact match to the selected influenza virus strains. We are actively exploring several strategies to develop a broadly-protective influenza vaccine, with the ambition to provide long-lasting protection against influenza and its related complications.
In addition to our flu portfolio, Sanofi Pasteur is building on its 40 years of science-led research in meningococcal infection by developing new vaccines to further expand protection of individuals, from infants to older adults, worldwide.
In 2017, Sanofi Pasteur signed an agreement with MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, to develop and commercialize a monoclonal antibody for the prevention of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) associated illness in neonates and infants.
Improving the world’s health entails developing new solutions to illnesses that affect people around the globe. Sanofi Pasteur makes innovation the heart of its strategy and spends more than €500 million a year on researching and developing new vaccines. Sanofi Pasteur’s R&D teams closely follow the latest technological advances around the world in an effort to develop vaccines against new infectious disease targets – for which there is still no means of prevention – and improve existing ones to advance global access.
7. Are there any initiatives in place or in the works by Sanofi Pasteur to promote vaccination programmes as a way to prevent infectious disease?
Awareness, access and acceptance are key to ensuring the uptake of vaccines against infectious diseases. Together with local community partners, Sanofi Pasteur is committed to ensuring awareness and education programmes to deliver easily accessible information tailored for local community needs.
Some of the community programs we are involved in includes Helping Hands in Korea – a vaccination program for the underprivileged community – working with the Korean Sport & Olympic committee enabling prevention and protection for its national squad, partnering with expert groups such as the Malaysian Influenza Working Group, collaborating with the Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sports in creating awareness and vaccinating against flu for athletes during the 2018 Asian Games and recently we supported the ‘Flu Prevention is an Act of Love’ campaign organized by the Malaysian Immunize4Life.
With the public health community, we are actively involved in strengthening the vaccine delivery system by helping to build capabilities for healthcare workers, addressing funding, access and distribution challenges that inhibit vaccinations in countries with underdeveloped infrastructure. [APBN]
- Andre FE, Booy R et al. Bulletin of the World Health Organization: Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide. 2008. Accessed January 2018. Retrieved from: http://www. who.int/bulletin/volumes/86/2/07-040089/en/
- https://www.who.int/immunization/newsroom/new-measles-data-august-2019/en/. Accessed on 3 December, 2019
- https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Southeast-Asia-scrambles-to-contain-measles-outbreak. Accessed on 3 December, 2019
- https://time.com/5748698/polio-malaysia-southeast-asia/. Accessed on 28 December, 2019.
- https://www.healthpolicy-watch.org/new-polio-eradication-strategy-faces-challenges-of-missing-childrendue-to-geographic-isolation-migration-insecurity/ Accessed on 3 December 2019.
- https://www.who.int/southeastasia/news/detail/05-09-2019-accelerate-efforts-to-eliminate-cervical-cancerwho Accessed on 1 January, 2020.
- Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Beyond Polio. Available at http://polioeradication.org/wpcontent/uploads/2016/07/BeyondPolio_FactSheet.pdf. Last accessed October 2019.
About the Interviewee
Francois Sandre, Head of Asia & JPAC, Sanofi Pasteur