Vaccination has made a major contribution to practically eradicating certain diseases in Switzerland. For example, the first vaccine against polio was authorised in 1955. The number of cases of polio subsequently dropped continuously, to the point where the last case in Switzerland occurred in 1982.
Yet vaccination does pose some challenges. It has been possible to increase the vaccination rate for measles in Switzerland, thanks in part to the National Strategy to Eliminate Measles 2011–2015, especially in the cantons in which the rate was previously low. Yet at 87 percent, the rate is still well below the level of vaccination coverage of 95 percent targeted by the World Health Organization (WHO), thus leading to repeated outbreaks of measles.
Innovation in vaccines
A distinction is made between live and inactivated vaccines. A live vaccination usually contains a harmless variant or a weakened version of a disease-causing pathogen (e.g. a virus or a bacterium). Such vaccines are normally used to stimulate the immune system into producing a lasting effect against the pathogen. Vaccines that provide protection against measles, mumps and rubella are examples of live vaccines. An inactivated vaccine, on the other hand, contains pathogens that are no longer capable of reproducing. One example is the flu vaccine, which contains fragments of the influenza viruses in circulation during the previous year’s flu season. Vaccine manufacture is subject to very strict quality controls.
Research can make a major contribution to improving the production of vaccines by using gene-technology methods to manufacture so-called recombinant vaccines. Here, the DNA of the disease-causing pathogen is incorporated into yeast cells, for example. The vaccine produced in this way is sufficient to maintain the required immune response by the immune system without exposing the body to the entire pathogen. The hepatitis B vaccine is manufactured using recombinant technology.