CDC scientist harvesting H7N9 virus
Historically, vaccine development has been a long, risky, and costly endeavour. Planning for emerging infectious diseases is especially challenging: the market potential for vaccines against these diseases is limited and testing such vaccines is difficult.
We need a better system to speed the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.
If a highly contagious and lethal airborne pathogen, with the characteristics of the 1918 Spanish Flu, were to emerge today it is estimated that nearly 33 million people worldwide would die in just 6 months.
The costs of emerging infectious diseases are vast—in both human and economic terms. Recent economic work suggests that the annual global cost of moderately severe to severe pandemics is roughly $570 billion, or 0.7 percent of global income. The cost of a severe pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu could total as much as 5 percent of global GDP.
Events like the devastating 2014/15 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa—which killed more than 11,000 people and had an economic and social burden of over $53 billion—showed us that very few vaccines are ready to be used against these threats.
The world’s response to this crisis fell tragically short. A vaccine that had been under development for more than a decade was not deployed until over a year into the epidemic. That vaccine was shown to be 100% effective, suggesting that much of the epidemic could have been prevented.