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Happy Anniversary to the Miracle of Vaccines

May 14, 2013

Happy anniversary … to the miracle of vaccines, to prevention, to equity, to a healthy start, to life

217 years ago today, May 14, Edward Jenner vaccinated a young, eight-year-old James Phipps against smallpox.  That moment marked a new chapter for humanity, with the first person on the planet ever being immunized.  I could not have imagined a more befitting way to honor and celebrate that anniversary than today’s announcement in Delhi on India’s progress toward the development of a rotavirus vaccine. 

More than twenty-five years ago, Dr. M.K. Raj Bhan (former Secretary, Department of Biotechnology) noticed a set of newborns infected with rotavirus not getting sick.  Very similar to the way Dr. Jenner noticed milkmaids protected against smallpox.  Thanks to an astute observation by a committed and curious scientist that blossomed into a worldwide public-private partnership comprised of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), National Institute of Health (NIH), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and PATH, India is on the verge of approving a rotavirus vaccine developed 100% locally. 

As an Indian-American, the son of two Indians who emigrated from rural Gujarat to the United States in 1964, today conjured mixed emotions: frustration and inspiration.  Admittedly, I wish India introduced a rotavirus vaccine years-ago, living up to its stature as an emerging economy and fulfilling the promise of the world’s largest democracy.  On the other hand, I (reluctantly so) admit to seeing India as ‘coming-of-age,’ more than 150 years younger than the United States, still finding its place on the world-stage, seeking to be self-sufficient.  As such, right or wrong, India prefers locally manufactured products – including locally manufactured vaccines. 

Well, thanks to a team of remarkable individuals committed to social good through innovation and technology, yet another anniversary will be marked in the history books for May 14: the results of Bharat Biotech’s phase 3 clinical trial of an India-derived rotavirus vaccine, Rotavac™.  With an efficacy of roughly 50-60% (comparable to rotavirus vaccines by GSK and Merck) and a convincing safety profile, substantiated by a clinical trial implemented with the highest standard of quality, there is hope for millions of families across India.  

Today turns the page to a new chapter in the history of public health for India, and the world – transforming the way India can attack diarrhea.  I pray that the vaccine is licensed, rolled-out safely, and reaches kids who deserve it most. It would save tens of thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations every year, improving the livelihoods of families nationwide and enriching the country’s future at-large.  All by capitalizing on the power of prevention through the miracle of vaccines Edward Jenner set in motion more than two centuries ago. 

 Learn more about PATH's work and how you can get involved:  

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