Heatproof technology has been saving the lives of firefighters for decades. But now it’s saving the lives of babies in an unexpected way, with vaccines.
A new heatproof vaccine was found to effectively treat children in desert regions in Niger in a study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The vaccine could be both a game-changer and a life-saver. And an answer to the tricky challenges of delivering chilled vaccines across vast and hot regions to isolated areas.
The vaccine prevents against rotavirus — a deadly diarrheal-disease responsible for nearly half a million deaths a year, primarily among young children. It requires zero refrigeration and only costs $2.50, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders.)
Keeping vaccines cool is one of the biggest problems in providing preventive care for diseases like measles, tuberculosis, or polio. After vaccines are made, the majority must be kept in a narrow range of cool temperatures, which can be a supply chain nightmare. Immunization temperatures must be recorded every step of the way in what the World Health Organization refers to as the “cold chain.”
While most vaccines on the cold chain must be kept in the narrow range of 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, the new rotavirus vaccine, BRV-PV, is stable at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit for one year and at 104 degrees Fahrenheit for six months.
It was manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and was distributed to 4,000 children under age two in Niger to test its effectiveness and safety.
The vaccine has a 66.7% rate of effectiveness against preventing severe gastroenteritis, which is only slightly lower than existing vaccines but still satisfactory, according to the results of the study.
“We believe that the new vaccine can bring protection against rotavirus to the children who need it most,” said MSF medical director, Dr. Micaela Serafini.
While nearly every child in the world gets rotavirus in their lifetime, the virus is deadly for children across Africa. Diarrhea caused by the virus kills 1,300 children daily, most of whom are the world’s most vulnerable. Children who die from rotavirus have limited access to medical facilities to treat diarrhea, and preventing the disease is often their only chance.
Currently, the vaccine is under review by the World Health Organization. If approved, the vaccine could start saving lives in just a few months. This is great news, as there is a shortage of rotavirus vaccines according to MSF.
Many things in the world are heat-proof — pants, gloves, bowls, tape, curtains — it’s about time this technology is adapted to situations and people who need it most. MSF shares the same goal. They want to see this vaccine adapted so others have heatproof powers, too.