July 2, 2003
The future of vaccines, infectious disease experts say, is teenagers. Babies are now getting up to 20 vaccinations by age 2 to prevent polio, measles, chickenpox and other diseases transmitted by coughing. Pharmaceutical companies are inventing new vaccines against diseases usually transmitted by sex, drug use, foreign travel or living in dormitories or barracks.
According to Stanley A. Plotkin, inventor of the rubella vaccine, by 2012 new or better vaccines will be available for adolescents for a wide range of conditions, including:
- Herpes in teenage girls, which can cause lifelong painful sores, help spread AIDS and kill newborns; Papillomaviruses, which cause warts and cervical cancer; Cytomegalovirus, which can kill fetuses.
- Meningococcal B infections, which are rare but are known for killing college freshmen and army recruits.
- Whooping cough, flu and shingles infections, and the toxins of dangerous bacteria encountered by travelers and hospital patients.
- Starting in 1999, the British government distributed 18 million doses of vaccine against group C meningococcal disease, reducing new cases 90 percent in the first groups who received it.
- In the 1990s France immunized adolescents against hepatitis B -- the one vaccine given to American infants solely because the health care system is ill-equipped to immunize teenagers, says David Salmon of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
Vaccines are also relatively expensive. The price paid by public health programs for a typical set of childhood shots rose to $385 in 2001 from $10 in 1971, according to a recent University of Michigan Medical School study.
Source: Donald G. McNeil Jr., "Vaccination Graduates to an Older Crowd," New York Times, July 1, 2003.
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