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Vaccines: The Heroes of Public Health

Vaccines: The Heroes of Public Health

This year’s World Immunization Week, themed, ‘Protected Together: Vaccines Work!’ celebrates ‘Vaccine Heroes’ from around the world. It gives us a moment to consider the significant leaps forward we have made as a society in reducing the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases and to recognize the men and women on the front-line, who work tirelessly towards tackling this global threat.

Reflecting on this occasion are two of our most passionate leaders in Vaccine development, Hanneke Schuitemaker, Ph.D., Head of Viral Vaccine Discovery and Translational Medicine and Disease Area Stronghold Leader for Viral Vaccines and Jan Poolman, Head of Bacterial Vaccines Discovery and Early Development, Bacterial Vaccines Disease Area Stronghold Leader.


Question: Who comes to mind when you think of vaccine heroes?

Hanneke: When I think of heroes in vaccines, I think of the men, women and children who face the daily reality of living with a disease that in the future may be prevented by a vaccine. What drives me to relentlessly pursue our vaccines research at Janssen is knowing that our discoveries have the potential to transform the lives of people across the world.  

These individual lives are what move us, the Janssen scientists, to leave no stone unturned in our effort to discover and deliver new vaccines that extend protection against infectious diseases through childhood and beyond. In fact, this year’s theme, Protected Together: Vaccines Work! really calls to mind the absolute duty we have, to protect those most vulnerable members of our society, from newborn babies to older adults most at risk of serious diseases, to safeguard a healthier society for all.

Jan: For me, when I think about vaccines heroes, it is the teams behind vaccines discovery fighting the battle against growing global health crises. The hard work and commitment required to develop vaccines can only be created through team effort. World Immunization Week gives us an important opportunity to recognize the many innovative vaccines being discovered and developed across our industry that tackle the unmet medical needs like those linked to antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

In fact, at Janssen we are working on the development of a vaccine against ExPEC (Extra-intestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli), a widespread drug-resistant form of E. coli. Having immunization against ExPEC could help protect older adults at risk from developing often debilitating diseases, allowing them to live more years in good health.

Dr. Jan Poolman, left, and Dr. Hanneke Schuitemaker

Question: What motivates you to persevere in this work?

Hanneke: Vaccines are one of the greatest public health advances of our time, saving up to 3 million lives each year from severe infectious diseases.i Few innovations equal vaccination in reducing preventable deaths across the globe. I am personally driven by the potential of our research to protect and improve the lives of the global population, to safeguard the future of public health. Each day I work with my team to discover and develop innovative vaccines that have the potential to protect and save billions of lives from the world’s most deadly infections. Right now, we are working hard to develop vaccines to protect people from viral diseases, including HIV and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus).

Jan: I am motivated by the sheer scale of the challenge we still face as an industry. Despite continued innovation across our sector and the significant progress made in combatting preventable diseases through immunization to date, worldwide challenges remain. Right now, about 1.5 million people die each year from vaccine preventable diseases.i So, while we have come a long way, there is a significant distance still to travel and after 40 years in this field, I am still as motivated and driven as I was when I first started out, to create new products and realize the full potential of vaccines.


Question: What do you want to highlight during World Immunization Week?

Hanneke: Vaccination works. Despite the challenges and investments associated with vaccines development, scientific advances are expanding at an incredible rate. We know that the challenges of discovering and delivering vaccines to the world’s population are not insurmountable. Through internal discovery, world-class development of vaccines and meaningful global partnerships that connect our science with the expertise of others, we can realize Janssen’s vision of a healthier and equitably protected world.

Jan: Immunization is the foundation for strong, robust and sustainable health systems and universal health coverage. Furthermore, as AMR emerges as a growing global health crisis, vaccines are a powerful weapon against this crisis. Whilst we now offer great pediatric vaccine programs, we need to bring the same provision of care for the senior population.


To learn more:

Click here for or more information on Janssen and our commitment to public health.

Click here for more information on World Immunization Week 2019.


 i World Health Organization. 10 facts on immunization. Available at: https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/immunization/en/.  Last accessed March 2019.