Full text of infectious disease specialist Ofer Levy’s talk titled “Precision Vaccines: Bringing Precision Medicine to Vaccinology” at TEDxBeaconStreet conference. This talk is also known by the title “The new science of personalized vaccines”.
Ofer Levy – Director, Precision Vaccines Program, Boston Children’s Hospital
In 1796, Dr. Edward Jenner created the first vaccine by inoculating a young boy with cowpox, a virus that’s similar to smallpox.
This inoculation caused the boy’s immune system to make antibodies that would render the child resistant to smallpox, at a time that smallpox killed approximately 10% of the British population, including nearly half of all the infants infected by this virus.
Jenner coined the term “vaccination” for this process, based on “vaccinia,” the Latin term for cowpox.
Other than clean drinking water, vaccination remains the most important public health intervention in human history. Jenner did get accolades for this important accomplishment during his lifetime.
But there were also doubts, as illustrated in this etching that illustrates that some of the folks at the time were concerned that administering cowpox to people would make them grow horns.
Fortunately, that was not the case. And with the help of this vaccine, smallpox was eradicated in 1980.
“It is hard to overstate the beneficial effects of immunization.”
This quote from Dr. Stanley Plotkin, who’s been studying vaccines for over 60 years, hits the mark.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, US children born over the last 20 years – for those children, vaccines will prevent greater than 322 million illnesses, greater than 21 million hospitalizations and greater than 730,000 deaths, with the societal cost savings of nearly $1.4 trillion.
Those are big numbers, but let’s zoom in and look at a particular example.
Vaccines have nearly eliminated a bacterial infection called Haemophilus influenzae. This bacterium used to infect young infants, causing bloodstream infections, pneumonia, meningitis, death or permanent disability.