The “non-specific effects” of a vaccine occur when the vaccine has an impact on health outcomes beyond the disease it was designed to tackle. At the recent Optimmunize 2022 Conference in Denmark, Dr. Christine Stabell Benn, professor in global health and chair at the Danish Institute for Advanced Study, said this area of research has matured tremendously over the last decade.
Dr. Benn, who helped organize the conference for scientists from around the globe who study the broader positive health impacts of vaccines, reported on findings from the Bandim Health Project in Guinea-Bissau, where she has worked since 1993. She and her fellow researchers there found that children who receive the BCG tuberculosis vaccine have a lower mortality rate from unrelated infections. This non-specific effect of BCG reduced the country’s high neonatal mortality rate when the vaccine was given at birth.
Other scientists attending the conference reported on their studies of the non-specific effects of vaccines like MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and the polio vaccine. And recently, two publications indicated that BCG and MMR vaccines reduced the severity of COVID-19.
Importantly, in his opening remarks at the conference, Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that while infant mortality rates have declined by half in the last 20 years, newborn mortality rates have not dropped as much.
Representatives of the WHO attended a final closed session to discuss the health policy implications of the research presented at the meeting. Dr. Stabell Benn noted that a recommendation from the WHO that the BCG vaccine be given within the first week of life would help improve the child’s chance of surviving the critical first month of life.
The Parsemus Foundation is proud to have supported the Optimmunize 2022 Conference, and we look forward to the outcome of additional meetings that are scheduled to continue the discussion on this important topic.