January 31, 2012 | The Editors

So good vaccines don’t go bad

Man in red shirt sitting at his desk.
Vu Minh Huong. Photo: PATH/Nguyen Phu Cuong.

To have the best chance of saving a child from potentially deadly infection caused by hepatitis B, you must administer hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth. Not only must the vaccine be delivered promptly, it must be kept at a stable temperature to remain effective—a challenge when vaccines must travel long distances under varying conditions.

Project Optimize, a joint project of the World Health Organization and PATH, is collaborating with the government of Vietnam to test and apply technological advances to improve vaccine delivery systems. Dr. Vu Minh Huong, PATH’s senior team leader for vaccines and immunization in Vietnam, recently spoke about that work as part of our Power of Vaccines special feature. You can see his complete interview in the special feature.

Using the sun to cool

The sun, for example, powers one option for safe storage, says Vu Minh. “We’ve installed two solar-powered refrigerators in district-level health centers, where electricity can be unreliable and expensive,” he says. “They worked so well during the initial months that Vietnam’s manager of the National Expanded Program on Immunization recommended that they be used for regular vaccine storage in those centers.”

Making vaccines safer and more accessible means a lot to Vu Minh. “I’ve had many chances to see children infected with hepatitis B since I began working for PATH in 1997, and parents tell me how much they want the vaccine to protect their children,” he says. “I also understand how challenging it is for commune health workers to make an extra trip to the district health center to get the vaccine, especially in mountainous areas or during the rainy season. My colleagues and I are working hard to find solutions to protect newborns from this deadly infection, and we’re optimistic that we are succeeding.”

See the rest of Vu Minh’s interview.

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