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Renowned biologist counters anti-vaccination trendIVI head Jerome H. Kim cautions against unscientific movement
  • By Constance Williams
  • Published 2017.03.08 08:00
  • Updated 2017.03.08 11:10
  • comments 0

We all agree vaccines are one of the humankind’s scientific breakthroughs – saving people from an infectious disease by helping them acquire an active immunity to it.

Some people, most notably U.S. President Donald Trump, have recently begun to challenge this time-tested truth based on irrational beliefs, however. They cite some ill effects of vaccination, such as autism, an allegation that has yet to win scientific approval.

Few might be feeling all this recent development more pitiful than Jerome H. Kim, director general of International Vaccine Institute (IVI).

“If I do have the chance to sit next to President Trump, I would provide him with all the data and facts, show him studies of 100,000 kids – half vaccinated and half not vaccinated -- to see the number of cases who got infected between the two groups,” Kim said in a recent interview with The Korea Bio Medical Business Review.

“Trump is a business man; he never had the chance to examine or think about these data so what he heard is not correct,” Kim said. “Being in a medical profession, we should not alienate but convince individuals because all you need to do is to look at official information.”

Trump supporters heard that vaccination causes autism, and they probably have seen autistic children once or twice, but no one has ever actually seen the benefits of vaccinations because it’s invisible, he added.

A medical doctor by training and a colonel in the United States Army Medical Corps, Kim is a recognized leader in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) research and HIV vaccine development. He was named one of the “50 most influential people in vaccines” in 2014 by Vaccine Nation, an international vaccine organization.

He is also the grandson of Kim Hyun-koo, who fought for Korea’s independence from the Japanese colonialists, along with Syngman Rhee, the first president of this republic.

Kim took up the top job of IVI in March 2015 as the first person of Korean descent to lead the international agency. Halfway into his four-year tenure, it is a good moment for Kim to look back on his past two years at the office and set up plans for the remaining two.

Jerome Kim, director general of International Vaccine Institute, expresses his views about anti-vaccine movement and other issues, during a recent interview with The Korea Bio Medical Business Review, at his office in Seoul.

Question: IVI’s mission is simple yet powerful for global vaccination. From where did the vision inspire?

Answer: IVI came out from Children’s Vaccine Initiative (CVI) started by the United Nations Development Program in the late 1980s. Back then, American and European companies stressed about developing countries stealing their intellectual property and selling vaccines at lower prices. Recently companies now realize they can make a profit on their drugs and still have developing country manufacturers make a gap in social responsibility to provide low- cost, high-quality products.

With these vaccines, WHO estimated that over 500 million deaths had been averted in a span of 20 years from 1994-2014. Middle-East Syndrome (MERS) in Korea cost $10 billion in a span of three months and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) cost $40 billion so you can imagine that epidemics have enormous costs compared to the small amounts we spend on vaccinations. It’s very cost-effective for governments and society.

Q: Under your leadership, IVI has recently made progress with cholera vaccine development. How do you evaluate it?

A: Cholera kills 100,000-140,000 people a year, and it’s a severe form of diarrhea and can kill a grown man in a day if not treated, but now if you’re hooked to an IV you can walk out of the hospital in a few hours. What IVI did was acquiring a vaccine in Sweden, transferred to a biotech company in Vietnam, improved the vaccine and relocated the technology to manufacture to an Indian company called “SHANTA” which then spread over the world.

Q: Your research also includes HIV vaccine development. Please elaborate.

A: HIV vaccine development is something I have been personally involved with six studies. Four of them have not shown any protection and the remaining two stopped because the vaccine infected instead of protected. The studies I involved myself in showed 30-percent effectiveness on HIV, and this generated a huge amount of new information about what the vaccine protected. The new plan is to give booster shots to protect individuals over the span of three years. Over time your body’s memory of the vaccination decreases and you just need a reminder called a “booster shot.”

That is important in Asia because we are at the age where men have sex with other men in China, Korea, Japan, and Thailand and this brings new infections with ratings higher than even Africa. Therefore, convincing Asian countries, there’s an HIV problem has been tough.

Q: You will be one of the speakers at the World Vaccine Congress in April in Washington. And can you please briefly explain about the Congress and on what your speech will focus?

A: It is one of the two biggest conferences organized around partnership within vaccine-related industries everywhere the world. I was invited to share a session on emerging diseases such as MERS or Ebola, and I’m also asked to talk about ways we can use vaccination in addition to other ways to control diseases. A good example would be Cholera; we speak of Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) by chlorinating the water supply, encouraging hand-washing and improving the general sanitation to achieve optimal control.

Q: Globally, including Korea, there is the anti-vaccination movement where parents would rather not vaccinate their children. Please state your judgment on this.

A: Should you vaccinate your child? Absolutely! I believe there are two levels: The personal effect where 2.5 million children per year are alive because of vaccination. The best way to protect your child is not to raise them in a plastic bubble, but to give them the vaccines to function in the world and be free from illnesses/death caused by diseases.

The second effect is societal where mothers would feel ostracized from the community by not allowing their children in school because they were not vaccinated. You are a citizen in a certain community, and you need to protect your community against diseases. That is called a “herd effect” where you vaccinate a part of the population that will protect everyone. You can see a lot of potential benefit from vaccinations that are community and health based. The last thing you want to do is to alienate someone.

Q: U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated he believes vaccines can cause autism and a survey has suggested that one in three Trump supporters believe vaccines do cause autism. Why do you think this is the case?

A: Mr. Trump is not a doctor. You would have to see mothers carrying deformed babies infected with German measles or meet people from “iron lungs” to see what polio does. The biggest disadvantage is when those diseases occur; you’re not exposed to seeing people die from infectious diseases in America.

By not exposing the disease, vaccines win because they’re effective, and they lose because they’re effective. Trump supporters are basing their opinion on their experience and what they heard. What they haven’t seen is the bigger experience that we have on the benefits of vaccination. The medical and scientific professions have to be better communicating on why it’s so important. It’s the lack of knowledge about the true consequences and benefits that inspired the anti-vaccination movement.


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