Sue Middleton - 03 Dec 2021
Co-incidentally, I have worked at GSK for 30 years, working in the Vaccine division in the 1990s and again, for the last five years. Vaccination has been a constant throughout my life; I am a pro-vaxxer to the core. My two children had every vaccine on offer and I am thankful that I have been able to protect them.
We are lucky in Europe to be able to access vaccines easily and often free of charge. Getting our children vaccinated is simple; a trip to the doctor or pharmacy, a plaster on your arm and you’re on your way.
On the flip side I know this is not the case in all countries – the pandemic has brought this into sharp focus. Access is not the only issue – there are also different pathogens that are endemic in lower-income countries where there is no vaccine solution. It is with this in mind that I find my most memorable moment – the WHO recommendation for use of the world’s first malaria vaccine in Africa.
Three years ago, I participated in GSK’s Trek for Kids programme, in partnership with Save the Children, in Ethiopia. My fitbit had never seen so many steps – fifty thousand on the final day, up and down a 1400m climb. It was one of the most physically demanding things I have ever done and connected me, emotionally, to Ethiopia. Malaria remains a major public health problem and I am delighted that the vaccine will help this fragile country and its people.
In 2019, pilot programmes for our malaria vaccine started in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi. And in October 2021, the WHO recommended the wider use the malaria vaccine in children living in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission. It is hard to explain how proud I felt as I saw the news coverage from around the world – the fact that this vaccine could potentially save tens of thousands of lives each year – reported in all major news outlets. Three decades of work, something many people thought may have been impossible. It’s just one preventative solution of many, but it is one more option to help increase protection against a devastating disease which hits the under 5’s hardest.
For me, this vaccine being recommended by WHO brings hope and pride. And I think it is fitting that my most memorable in the past 30 years of vaccines is one that took 30 years to come to fruition. It shows how much time, how many people, how many days, and how much care goes into making vaccines, and that we don’t give up. #WeWontRest
About the author: Sue Middleton is President of the Vaccines Europe board, and Vice President of Communications and Government Affairs, Vaccines and Global Health at GSK.