WE’VE come a long way since Edward Jenner first inoculated a 13-year-old with vaccinia virus (cowpox), resulting in the first Smallpox vaccination, and almost 200 years later a global programme to eradicate the disease altogether.
It’s sometimes easy to forget the awful suffering caused through conditions such as Polio, Rubella and Diphtheria before the discovery of vaccines, or the life changing impact of Bacillus-Calmette-Guerin (BCG) in protecting us against Tuberculosis.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, a marked period of litigation led to a decline in the production of vaccines but recent advances in molecular genetics has increased understanding of how immunology works and raised the prospect of a whole new generation of vaccines. Research is currently under way on cancer vaccines and possible preventions against Alzheimer’s, allergies and autoimmune conditions.
Here in Birmingham, our Health Innovation Campus is poised to play its part and create many new jobs in the process. Their close collaboration with the University of Birmingham, our hospitals and the Institute for Translational Medicine is providing a real opportunity to study complex, infectious diseases.
We have a long-established pedigree in this area with Prof Adam Cunningham, of the University of Birmingham, a leading authority. He’s already made a significant contribution to antibody tests and the study of the impact of vaccines.
Despite evidence of such huge gains, there has always been some resistance and there’s currently a very active ‘anti-vaxxers’ campaign. A report by the Centre for
Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that one in six people in this country might refuse a coronavirus vaccine because of fears generated by antivaxxers. The CCDH warn that this movement could well undermine the roll-out of a vaccine.
This past year has been very difficult and we still don’t know when a vaccine will be ready or how effective it might be. I am in awe of our scientists and their amazing efforts in getting this far so quickly.
I take some comfort from the fact that Jenner’s work was also attacked in his day but surely the last thing we need now is a campaign of fear from cranks and conspiracists.
Steve McCabe MP | Weekly Column for Birmingham Mail