From the archives | MIT Technology Review


From “Should the Government Make Vaccines?” January 1992: Fear of a looming health crisis is prompting policymakers to take a look at the nation’s vaccine needs. One solution: supplement private vaccine production with a National Vaccine Authority that would oversee development and distribution of vaccines that are too risky or unprofitable for industry to make. 

The idea has been proposed before, only to be overwhelmed by industry objections. But September 11 has changed the debate. “The anthrax terrorism event clearly exposed the weaknesses we have in the development and production of vaccines that are important for fighting terrorism, and at the same time dramatized that we have significant problems with vaccines that are important for the civilian sectors,” says Kenneth Shine, president of the Institute of Medicine.

From “The New Vaccines,” May 2002: The major challenge to developing an AIDS vaccine may well be that HIV infects the very cells, the helper T lymphocytes, that control much of the immune response. HIV also introduces its own genetic blueprint into that of the T lymphocyte, making the infection of that cell permanent.

And unlike the way infected cells typically respond to most invaders, a fraction of cells carrying HIV may not produce the viral proteins that alert the immune system. Moreover, HIV can baffle the immune system by rapidly changing portions of its enveloping protein.

Despite these problems, we have substantial reason to expect that a human vaccine can be developed. After all, the immune system makes a strong effort to destroy the virus through the action of antibodies and lymphocytes.