Impact on: Vaccines

IHI and IMI projects are paving the way towards better and improved vaccines.


What's the problem?

According to the World Health Organisation, vaccination prevents up to three million deaths per year worldwide. Vaccines are critical to the prevention and control of infectious disease outbreaks, but they are less effective as we get older, so more studies are needed to ensure that all age groups can be protected. Some viruses, like influenza, present differently every year, posing a challenge to vaccine manufacturers, and vaccine performance needs to be continually monitored. In addition, vaccine production requires a lot of animal research, so new alternatives should be explored.


IHI / IMI research...

…producing new vaccines and vaccine candidates

The EBOLAVAC projects successfully led to the development of a vaccine against Ebola, which immunised more than 200 000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. The AdVac® vaccine technology platform used to create the Ebola vaccine was later used to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. For more about IMI’s work on Ebola, read our Ebola spotlight. The PROMISE project is investigating possible vaccine candidates for tackling respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common virus that can have devastating consequences for young children - almost 3.4 million children under the age of 5 are hospitalised each year as a result of RSV. PROMISE will build on the results of the IMI RESCEU project, which investigated RSV transmission as well as evaluating the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of different approaches to immunising infants. The PRIMAVERA project is using mathematical models to assess different vaccines and monoclonal antibodies for their impact on antimicrobial resistance, which is responsible for more than 35 000 deaths in the EU each year.

…developing tools to test and track the effectiveness of vaccines

The PERISCOPE team have developed innovative tools that will be used to test new pertussis vaccine candidates, including 14 new lab tests. DRIVE has developed a tool to evaluate the effectiveness of an influenza vaccine at population level by brand – by inputting various parameters related to vaccine coverage, attack rate in the unvaccinated and the variants of flu present.

…monitoring the performance of existing vaccines

Traditionally, efforts to monitor the coverage, benefits and risks of vaccines after approval have been fragmented. ADVANCE created a partnership between European pharma companies, the medicines regulators responsible for green-lighting vaccines, and the public health bodies that collect data on infectious diseases, to put down some ground rules for how they can work together in the future to ensure that vaccines are continuously monitored and improved. The project also developed and tested new methods and data analysis tools to create a Europe-wide system that can generate solid evidence on how vaccines are faring once on the market. When it comes to influenza, different strains of influenza strike each season and there are several vaccines in operation each year. The DRIVE project established a network that evaluates how effective various brands of influenza vaccines are each season, which was appreciated by the European Medicines Agency. Elderly people are very often vulnerable to communicable diseases, so the VITAL project is evaluating the response of older adults to various vaccinations and making recommendations on those that are best suited to older populations. The FLUCOP project’s goal is to deliver a standardised toolbox to evaluate the ability of new vaccines to stimulate the immune system and compare results from different laboratories.

…investigating how vaccines affect subpopulations and why adverse reactions to vaccines occur

The VITAL project is investigating vaccine immunity across age groups, and whether administering vaccines earlier or later in life make a difference. VITAL researchers are analysing blood samples of people aged 18-90 after receiving the influenza and then the pneumococcal vaccine, observing the immune response and searching for patterns in cells that are most critical to a person’s immune response. BIOVACSAFE, the first IMI project on vaccines, carried out a five-year investigation into the causes of adverse reactions to vaccines. They successfully identified new biomarkers of adverse reactions to some licensed antiviral vaccines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the EHDEN project ran a population-based cohort study which revealed that vaccination was not linked to increases in neurological disorders, however the study did show that infection with coronavirus was associated with an increased risk of Bell’s palsy, encephalomyelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

…decreasing the number of animals used in vaccine development ‌The VAC2VAC project is investigating new methods for testing vaccine batches that do not involve animals. Non-animal in vitro systems that can ensure that the quality of a batch of vaccines that just rolled off the production line is consistent with and of the same quality as a previously quality-controlled batch are being developed by the project.