By Michael Price
A new vaccine technique could make it possible for doctors to administer effective vaccinations to newborns, closing an existing window of opportunity for infection and helping less developed countries fight infectious diseases.
According to figures from the Global Health Council, more than 15 million people die from infectious diseases every year. The vast majority of these diseases occur in poor, developing countries, and young children are disproportionately affected.
While a few vaccines, such as that for hepatitis B, are given at birth, most children don’t start receiving vaccinations until they are 2 months old, after which they receive a series of vaccines at regular intervals until their inoculations are complete.
The reason newborns aren’t given the majority of vaccines is because their immune systems aren’t developed enough for those vaccines to take effect.
“Vaccines are approved for use for specific age ranges,” said Ofer Levy, a physician and infectious disease researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston. “A lot of vaccines are less effective for newborns.”
Vaccines work by introducing into the body harmless molecules that trick the immune system into thinking it’s fighting an infection, causing it to produce the antibodies necessary to fight off harmful versions of the disease it encounters in the future.
Newborns’ immune systems in particular have less ability to produce protein molecules known as cytokines that tell disease-fighting cells what to do, making it difficult for their immune systems to learn from vaccines.