When it comes to technological advances, crises can accelerate progress. Immunisation is no exception. The past two years have seen a dramatic acceleration in the development of new types of vaccine, novel ways of delivering vaccination, and fresh approaches to communication.
The question is, where do we go from here?
As Vaccines Today rounds off its 10-year anniversary campaign, we brought together leading experts to look ahead to the future of immunisation.
Prof Pierre Van Damme, University of Antwerp, predicted that vaccines would become ‘more tailored’: vaccines could be recommended based on a person’s age, their underlying medical conditions, and even their likelihood of responding to immunisation. ‘This is a fantastic evolution in terms of opening new possibilities for the future,’ he said. ‘We could trigger a better immune response by taking a more personalised approach.’
‘Universal’ vaccines against all strains of influenza and all variants of SARS-CoV-2, are also in development, he said. In addition, researchers are exploring ways to deliver vaccines without injection, including nasal COVID-19 vaccines and several intradermal vaccines (delivered just under the outer layer of skin). He added that therapeutic vaccines are a hot area of research, with scientists exploring ways of training the body’s immune system to respond to cancer, diabetes and dementia.
With science moving quickly, vaccinology education will become increasingly important for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others on the frontline of vaccine delivery. ‘We should invest in the future and current generation of healthcare workers, so that when someone has a question on vaccines, they can get an answer that will build trust.’
If new vaccines become available, who stands to benefit, and will the public accept new immunisation options? Dr Daphne Holt, Chair of the Coalition for Life-Course Immunisation (CLCI) said there is growing momentum behind bringing vaccination to people at all stages of life. ‘We can all expect to live longer,’ Dr Holt said. ‘We need to remain healthy and active so we can work longer and play longer. And we need to consider that vaccines have a role to play in that.’
COVID-19 vaccination campaigns have shown that health authorities have the capacity to deliver widespread adult vaccination. ‘Mass vaccination campaigns can be carried out when there is sufficient political will to make it happen,’ she said. ‘It will be people’s perceptions and beliefs about vaccines that is a challenge in the future.’
Communication and advocacy will become increasingly important to vaccine uptake, according to Katie Owens, Information & Communication Officer at the European Commission, who said two-way communication will be essential. Rather than focus on the small minority of anti-vaccine voices online, she encouraged people to explore the reasons driving hesitancy.
‘It’s easy to point to vaccine hesitancy or blame anti-vaxxers but there are many reasons why people do not get vaccinated,’ she said. ‘We have to listen and put in place ways to support them. If you are not prepared to have two-way conversations and really understand concerns, you will not get anywhere.’
Owens said everyone can become a vaccine advocate online and offline. Many non-traditional actors, including hairdressers and taxi drivers, can help to shape conversations and drive higher uptake of recommendation vaccines. ‘One of my big messages is we can all be vaccine ambassadors in our own networks, in our own communities,’ she said.
The lively discussion also heard from UNICEF’s Angus Thomson on the role of social media companies in vaccine acceptance; Joanna Oberska, on the role of pharmacists in Poland and beyond; Mariano Votta, Active Citizenship Network, on how the media can drive informed decision-making; and David Sinclair of ILC-UK on the high-tech advances shaping the future of vaccine delivery.
Watch the full discussion to learn more about the future of vaccine research, policy and communication. And stay tuned to Vaccines Today as we follow developments in the years to come.