April From the Editor

View PDF

A friend of mine was returning home from a vacation in Rome this week, and her flight from Europe to Newark was delayed and diverted because someone’s child had measles on the intended connecting plane. Measles! Someone thought it was okay to spread that around.

Often as we put together a themed issue — whether focused on a manufacturing pillar or something new like this month — a subtheme seems to just happen. This month, thanks to authors from Biogen and MilliporeSigma along with the drug-product contribution from CBX, that subtheme turned out to be vaccines. Combined with my friend’s experience, this has turned my thoughts to the antivax movement and the damage done. What began as a mere public-relations problem for the biopharmaceutical industry has become a growing economic and public health disaster.

It traces back to a flawed study by a now-disgraced scientist who claimed a connection between one adjuvant and autism. Thanks to confirmation bias, that was all it took to convince anyone who may have been nervous about something he or she did not understand that all vaccines should be avoided. And the same bias keeps those people from learning otherwise. As a result, infectious diseases that once were considered nearly wiped out by vaccine technology are making a comeback across the world — and new products that could prevent others are facing unnecessary obstacles to their success.

Two years ago, I was diagnosed and treated for cervical cancer, a condition that Australia just lately announced it expects to wipe out nationally soon thanks to vaccines against human papilloma virus (HPV). I wish we’d had such a vaccine when I was a girl. Even though I was cured (so far), the treatment was quite an ordeal.

The same could be said about other conditions that vaccines can prevent. Measles is a classic example. Modern “antivaxxers” claim that it’s no big deal because they are just two generations removed from the seriousness of it — though not for long, it seems. Before the 1960s, major epidemics occurred every couple of years, and measles caused millions of deaths each year. Like influenza, this is a viral infection that can kill. (And even some doctors and nurses are afraid of flu vaccines.) Viruses are more difficult to fight than bacteria, and antiviral therapy is less straightforward for patients than antibiotics. It may cure shingles if diagnosed early enough, but it doesn’t work for everything (e.g., not for HPV).

What does this mean to the biopharmaceutical industry? It may bring opportunities for developing new antiviral and antibiotics to market, I suppose. But that’s cold comfort to people facing vaccine product failure while watching children and adults suffer and die unnecessarily around the world. In an industry where lives are at stake, public relations should be about more than simply making your company look good. We have the responsibility to educate without marketing. (Consider who paid for the study that set off this time bomb.) Otherwise, we’re only giving fuel to those who would fire up sentiments against us. If the past few years have taught us all nothing else, it is that the consequences of misinformation are dangerous and far-reaching. And even something that appears to help your business in the short term can harm everyone (yourself included) in the long run.

 

Leave a Reply