What will we remember from 2020? Without doubt, the global chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic has given us a glimpse of what a world without vaccines could look like. We will also surely remember the incredible global mobilization against the virus: public health communities in countries around the world have added the capacities and resources necessary to combating the pandemic on top of continuing all their other regular efforts that are critical to protecting health and saving lives. At Sanofi, I’m proud to say we’re keeping pace with them and supporting their efforts in many ways including advancements in vaccines for two other life-threatening diseases in addition to our work in COVID-19: influenza and meningococcal meningitis.
Supporting increased meningococcal meningitis prevention in Europe
Meningococcal meningitis is a rare but devastating contagious disease caused by multiple strains of bacteria which can affect anyone at any age. In Europe, meningococcal meningitis vaccination recommendations in each country have historically focused on the one strain that had caused specific outbreaks in that country in the past; yet, several strains co-circulate in the population continually and can crop up at any time. Given these stakes, public health leaders in many countries across Europe are increasingly turning to newer vaccines that group four different meningococcal meningitis strains into one vaccine.
Having broader coverage against more strains is also in line with the World Health Organization’s redoubled efforts to defeat meningitis. They’ve published a strong and clear roadmap for countries to implement towards that goal in 2030.[i]
Sanofi is in the fight to support these laudable and fully achievable objectives. We have been supporting the fight against meningitis for 45 years, and to support this new movement towards more complete coverage, we’re pleased to have received authorization for our quadrivalent meningococcal meningitis vaccine in the European Union, a week ago.
Accelerating access to additional influenza vaccines to help prevent a “twindemic”
Influenza is another tricky infection, namely because the full burden of disease is often underestimated. In Europe alone, the annual epidemic affects an estimated 50 million people each year and is responsible for up to 70,000 deaths.[ii] Now, scientists are showing how influenza not only triggers life-threatening complications like pneumonia but also more unexpected consequences like heart attacks and strokes, which are not calculated into most estimations of the disease’s vast human and economic impacts.[iii]
Every year, Sanofi Pasteur teams work around the clock to manufacture influenza vaccines in the relatively short window between March and September to meet vast demands in the Northern Hemisphere. (We then turn to the same effort for the Southern Hemisphere between September and March!). The effort this year was more important than ever to help prevent a possible “twindemic” of COVID-19 and influenza, which could overwhelm already-taxed hospitals. Our teams pushed their limits further by manufacturing and supplying 20% more flu vaccines than last year, reaching an unprecedented production level of 250 million doses.
This supply increase also included accelerated plans to expand access to our recombinant protein technology-based influenza vaccine, one that offers an exact match to recommended influenza strains for the season. We are also using this same recombinant technology in the development of one of our vaccine candidates against COVID-19.
As with our meningococcal meningitis vaccine, we have also just received a validation for this recombinant technology influenza vaccine in Europe, to help expand coverage in the years ahead.
So, while 2020 has brought enormous challenges, it merits pausing to marvel just a moment at the ability of public health systems to mobilize so massively and to continue to progress medical innovation to more people worldwide. Together we’re showing that we can meet the big challenge of 2020, and then some. And in turbulent times like these, it’s both necessary and reassuring.
[i] World Health Organization (WHO) October 2020, Draft (v1.0)
[ii] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/seasonal-influenza/facts/factsheet, ECDC Factsheet about seasonal influenza (v1.0) – Cases in EU/EEA (p.1) Seasonal influenza causes 4 -50 million symptomatic cases in EU /EEA each year, and 15 000 – 70 000 European citizens die every year of cau