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The number of new and improved human viral vaccines licensed in recent years contrasts sharply with what could be termed the golden era (1955-1990) when vaccines against polio-, measles, mumps, rubella and hepatitis B viruses first became available. Here, we attempt to explain why vaccines, mainly against viruses other than HIV and HCV, are still unavailable. They include human herpesviruses other than varicella-zoster virus, respiratory syncytial and most other respiratory, enteric and arthropod-borne viruses. Improved oral poliovirus vaccines are also urgently required. Their unavailability is attributable to regulatory/economic factors and the properties of individual viruses, but also to an absence of relevant animal models and ethical problems for the conduct of clinical of trials in pediatric and other critical populations. All are portents of likely difficulties for the licensing of effective vaccines against emerging pathogens, such as avian influenza, Ebola and Zika viruses. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.