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International Vaccine Access Center Blog


By Dr. Orin Levine

Last Tuesday, the GAVI Alliance Board announced that, after an international search, it has appointed Dr. Seth Berkley as its new Chief Executive Officer.  Dr. Berkley, a renowned medical epidemiologist and experienced advocate for global health and immunization, is best known for his work as the president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), which he founded in 1996. Since its inception, the organization has made significant strides towards finding a more permanent solution to combat AIDS. Under his effective leadership, IAVI has mobilized over US $800 million in resources for AIDS vaccine research and development and has furthermore implemented a global advocacy agenda that has kept vaccines in the spotlight over the years. 

When I came to Johns Hopkins in 2003 and started the PneumoADIP project (a progenitor of IVAC), Seth was one of the very first people I sought out for advice.  Over a breakfast near his home in Tribeca, he answered a slew of questions and provided valuable and wise advice.  A long-time champion for vaccines and global health, Seth will certainly bring a wealth of valuable experience with him to GAVI.  

Before establishing IAVI, he was an officer of the Health Sciences Division at The Rockefeller Foundation where he managed programs on vaccines, AIDS, reproductive health and public health training in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  He has also worked as an EIS officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), then at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Task Force for Child Survival at the Carter Center, where he served as the Ministry of Health Epidemiologist in Uganda. 

I doubt you’ll find anywhere an epidemiologist more visible than Seth Berkley.  For his innovation and drive, he has been featured in Newsweek and Wired magazine.  In 2009, he was also recognized by TIME magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” 

But he’s more than just a beautiful mind.  While now happily married with kids, in 2001, Dr. Berkley was featured in People magazine as one of its 50 most eligible bachelors (along with Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and others).  You can catch a glimpse of his charisma and communications skills in his TED talk on influenza and HIV vaccines.

On behalf of myself and IVAC, we are looking forward to working with Seth in his new role and helping him to make good on GAVI’s mission – one we share at IVAC – to assure access for vaccines to everyone who needs them, everywhere they need them.

Dr. Orin Levine is the Executive Director of the International Vaccine Access Center

Related links
Dr Seth Berkley biography - International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI)
TIME magazine's "100 most influential people in the world" 2009 - Seth Berkley
TED talks (video) - Dr Seth Berkley: HIV and flu -- the vaccine strategy
International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI)

Research and experience show that when a decision-maker is considering a new vaccine for their national immunization program their first consideration is the impact that the disease has on their population. Even before they consider how much the vaccine costs or its safety or effectiveness.

This makes perfect sense. The USA could afford a Japanese Encephalitis vaccine but we don’t use it because we don’t have the disease.

Increasingly, the “impact” of vaccines will be measured as much or more by the economic consequences of the disease as by the number of cases or deaths that it prevents. Treatment costs that averted by preventing an illness with vaccines are just the most limited and basic measure of the economic effects of vaccination. A fuller, more comprehensive assessment would include other economic costs like the productivity lost when a child is disabled for life and unable to contribute to a growing economy and benefits like the macroeconomic impact from accelerating the demographic transition and encouraging economic growth in poor countries.

IVAC is actively working to develop a rigorous evidence-base on the economics of vaccines. One small example of our team’s work is included in this this cool new video from the Gates Foundation.

Have a look and see what you think.  And help us start the conversation on the importance of economic evaluation of vaccines.

Judging from a recent slew of national announcements and media coverage, it sure looks like 2011 is going to be an exciting year for pneumococcal vaccine access. In the past 2 weeks, I’ve gotten emails and read articles from literally every corner of the world in which people are getting ready to introduce pneumococcal vaccines.

First, it was an email from a former colleague at IVAC who is now working in Mali and reported that the government has started training field workers to deliver pneumococcal conjugate vaccine beginning this year. Then it was an email about efforts to publicize the launch of the vaccine in Sierra Leone and an email from a colleague in Kenya where they had just started vaccinating at his local clinic.

Below is a really nice profile by the Baltimore Sun of our work at IVAC with kind words of recognition from our colleagues at the GAVI Alliance & a few relevant press announcements from newly introducing countries from Pakistan to Qatar to Chile & New Zealand.

Baltimore center leads fight to provide vaccines to world's children
IVAC hopes to save the lives of 5 million children over next 20 years. By John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun, January 21, 2011.,0,7297449.story

Introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in routine immunization endorsed (Pakistan)

Vaccine to reduce mortality among kids

Chile, NZ to use GSK pneumococcal vaccine

Welcome to the brand-new IVAC Blog! We’re pleased to launch this forum where experts, policymakers, advocates, students and other impassioned individuals can share ideas, thoughts and analysis on the latest in global health and vaccine access.

As students and practitioners of public health know well, delivering health interventions is often just as important as discovering them. Despite advances in science that allow us to prevent the world’s deadliest infections, those advances will never bear fruit in a majority of the world’s countries without the evidence base to prove the need, backed up by an advocacy effort that spurs decision makers to act. 

It was this compelling need that inspired the establishment of IVAC at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health just one year ago.

Simply put, IVAC is dedicated to ensuring that safe and effective vaccines reach those who need them most—like children in developing countries, where the disease burden is high and health interventions are tremendously scarce. Though great strides have been made in recent years to fund and improve vaccine delivery in the world’s last-mile communities, there is much work left to be done—and there are many barriers to implementation that remain stubbornly intact. 

Being housed at the Bloomberg School of Public Health allows IVAC to draw upon the tremendous expertise of the faculty as well as other scientific and policy leaders in building the credible case for expanding vaccine access. Our projects are made possible through grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the GAVI Alliance, the US Centers for Disease Control and others and we partner with international organizations, in-country advocates, industry leaders, civil society and others to ensure smart collaboration and accelerate progress. 

Thanks to the work of IVAC and our partners, nearly 50 developing countries have introduced Hib vaccines in the past decade, protecting millions of children and millions more will be protected in the years ahead from pneumococcal and other diseases. For us at IVAC, our aim is to do the same with other vaccines for diseases that claim the lives of children unnecessarily.

The IVAC Blog launches at a particularly important time for its mission. At Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, our third-annual Vaccine Day is tomorrow, Friday, October 29—and globally, the second-annual World Pneumonia Day will take place November 12. We invite you to participate in both events so that we can continue to find innovative and sustainable ways to deliver lifesaving vaccines to children who need them.

As any global health organization knows, the breakthrough in the lab is only half the battle. To be effective, we always need to know what works on the ground and what doesn’t. So please use the comments section to share your thoughts and ideas and highlight the topics and resources you’d like to read and discover in this blog.

--Dr. Orin Levine

Mar 2011