Image: Study senior co-author and Burnet Program Director, Disease Elimination, Professor Heidi Drummer
New Burnet Institute research highlights the urgent need to develop a universal hepatitis C vaccine in order to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) goal for global elimination by 2030.
The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, uses mathematical modelling to simulate elimination efforts in 167 countries with treatment only, compared to strategies that combined treatment with vaccination.
According to the lead author, Burnet Econometrician Dr Nick Scott, the modelling shows that despite the advent of highly effective direct acting antivirals (DAAs), a vaccine could more than double the number of countries that could achieve the elimination targets.
“We need to keep a focus on treating people because of the immediate benefits, but we also need to acknowledge that in the longer term this isn’t going to be enough to fix the problem,” Dr Scott said.
“It’s important that a vaccine continues to be pursued – and this is in line with every other infectious disease where treatments are helpful but a vaccine is the gold standard – and we need to start that process now because you can’t just turn on a vaccine when you need it.”
This study shows that even if a vaccine was only 75 percent effective it could reduce the number of new and re-infections, reduce the testing burden among key risk populations, and substantially reduce the overall cost.
According to the research, Australia is one of the countries that will struggle to achieve elimination without additional prevention because of health system constraints and the enormous challenge to reach everyone who’s infected, and to ensure they test regularly.
Study senior co-author, Burnet Institute Program Director, Disease Elimination, Professor Heidi Drummer said a global commitment is required from researchers, clinicians, government agencies and WHO to make hepatitis C vaccine development a priority.
“I think we are making headway,” Professor Drummer said. “We understand a lot more about what we need from a vaccine both in terms of the types of immune responses we need to generate in people, but also what the cost of a vaccine needs to be to make this achievable.
“And this is an important point from the paper – that the cost must be kept low to make a vaccine affordable in a country-specific strategy around hepatitis C elimination.”
Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection, and a significant number of these people will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
The WHO estimates that in 2016, 399,000 people died from hepatitis C.
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