The concept is a simple one.
A vaccine given to a newborn baby can protect it from illness and disease.
Such a vaccination could also reduce the number of booster shots children get in their first few years of life.
The problem has always been creating a vaccine that is both effective and safe for the vulnerable immune system of infants.
Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital think they may be on the right track.
In a paper published late last month, the researchers detailed the one-shot vaccination they have been researching for the past decade.
The vaccine still needs to undergo human clinical trials.
However, if it passes the test, researchers say the inoculation could protect babies when they are most susceptible.
It would also be given right after birth when children are already at the hospital.
“The protective antibody response we saw was so strong that it's conceivable that you could get protection with one shot,” Dr. Ofer Levy, a specialist in infectious diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a press release. “This is critical because in many parts of the world, birth is the most reliable point of healthcare contact. After birth, it becomes challenging to bring children in for repeated clinic visits."
Vaccine worked in animals
Newborns are vulnerable to diseases and usually don’t respond well to vaccines because their young immune systems usually mount weak antibody responses.
To help solve this problem, the researchers added compounds known as adjuvants that boost the immune system for their experimental vaccine.
In the study, the researchers gave the vaccine to half of a group of rhesus monkeys. The other half was inoculated with an existing pneumococcal vaccine.
By day 28, researchers said, the monkeys with the new vaccine had antibody levels from 10 to 100 times higher than the other group. They also were quicker to develop antibody responses.
The researchers said the experimental vaccine works by stimulating a set of receptors on white blood cells. In particular, they noticed that stimulation of two specific receptors produced the strongest antibody response.
They added that the adjuvant was configured chemically with a lipid “tail” that mixes poorly with water.
That keeps it from entering the bloodstream where it can cause inflammation or flu-like symptoms.
Instead, the adjuvant stays in the muscle and activates the immune response from there.
The importance of the vaccine
Currently, only the Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG), polio, and hepatitis B vaccines are given at birth in most parts of the world.
The polio and hepatitis vaccines also need multiple doses to be effective.
The Boston researchers said a one-shot vaccine given at birth could greatly reduce infant mortality around the globe.
Two experts interviewed by Healthline agree.
Dr. Chris Nyquist, the medical director of infection prevention and control at Children’s Hospital in Colorado, said a “one and done” vaccine would be beneficial on several levels.
First, she said, the vaccination would be given when a newborn is most vulnerable to illness. The child and their parents also are usually in a medical setting at that juncture.
“It’s important to prevent infections as soon as we can,” said Nyquist.
Cynthia Leifer, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University, concurs.
“The most reliable interaction with medical care is at birth,” she said. “If the findings that they found in nonhuman primates is also true in humans, many more children could be protected by vaccines reducing the global burden of preventable infectious diseases.”
Both Leifer and Nyquist said the possibility of reducing the number of booster shots is important. If the need for a follow-up visit is eliminated, then more children will be protected from disease.
They added a reduction in the number of shots could soothe fears of some parents about the effects of multiple inoculations on their children.
“Reducing the number of shots may allay parent fears thereby increasing vaccine coverage and protecting more children,” said Leifer.
Moms Against Mercury and the World Mercury Project did not provide a representative to comment for this story.
Nyquist did suggest that human trials first test the experimental vaccine on adults to judge its safety before trying it out on children.
The vulnerability of young children
Two studies released this week highlight the effectiveness of childhood vaccines.
In the first study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that a flu vaccination significantly reduces a child’s risk of dying from influenza.
The scientists used data from four flu seasons from 2010 to 2014.
They said flu vaccines reduced the risk of flu-associated death by 65 percent in healthy children and by 51 percent among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions.
So far this flu season, the CDC has received 61 reports of children dying from flu-related complications.
In the second study, researchers concluded that vaccinating pregnant women against pertussis was highly effective in preventing newborns from contracting the life-threatening respiratory illness also known as whooping cough.
The scientists analyzed the records of almost 150,000 infants born at Kaiser Permanente Northern California from 2010 to 2015.
They said maternal Tdap vaccination was 91 percent effective during an infant’s first two months of life and 69 percent effective during a child’s first year.