In a new paper published in PLOS NTDs, Sabin Vaccine Institute President Dr. Peter Hotez proposes ways countries around the world can increase their reliance on vaccine diplomacy and vaccine science diplomacy in their foreign policy approaches.

 “While the historical and modern-day track records of vaccine and vaccine science diplomacy are impressive,” Dr. Hotez acknowledges, “they have not yet led to an overarching framework for its expanded role in foreign policy. Establishing such a framework might be especially useful.” Vaccine diplomacy and vaccine science diplomacy can facilitate engagement between countries that have historically maintained tense, if not outright adversarial, relationships, in addition to the latter also leading to the development, testing and use of some highly innovative neglected disease vaccines.

Dr. Hotez defines vaccine diplomacy as “the branch of global health diplomacy that relies on the use or delivery of vaccines,” whereas he outlines vaccine science diplomacy as “a unique hybrid of elements of global health diplomacy and science diplomacy.”

To increase understanding of these approaches, Dr. Hotez provides some historical context.

For instance, he explains how after Britain’s Edward Jeener discovered the smallpox vaccine in 1798, he advised countries as diverse as Russia, Turkey, Spain, Canada and Mexico on how to administer the smallpox vaccine. In the spirit of Louis Pasteur’s remarks that “science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity,” the French Pasteur Institute created a network of laboratories in Francophone countries in Indochina and North Africa in the late 1800s, especially to prepare and administer the rabies vaccine.

An exceptional vaccine science diplomacy example is also one closest to us at the Sabin Vaccine Institute: Dr. Albert Sabin’s groundbreaking work on the oral polio vaccine. During the Cold War, Dr. Sabin travelled from the U.S. to the Soviet Union to collaborate with Soviet virologists on prototype development for the oral polio vaccine. “The success … depended on each scientist going great lengths to convince their diplomatic liaisons to put aside ideologies for purposes of joint scientific cooperation,” Dr. Hotez noted.

These historical instances of global health and science leading to unprecedented collaboration have certainly impacted modern day efforts. For example, Dr. Hotez recognizes, “Beginning in 2000, vaccines became integrated as key tools in helping developing nations achieve their MDGs,” while “international efforts to ensure universal or equitable access for low- and middle income countries” are also fostering greater collaboration. The Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) is also immensely important, as it is working to expand access to existing vaccines to all populations by 2020 — based on the premise that health is a fundamental human right.

In the future, more can be done to build on this legacy. Dr. Hotez suggests that substantive joint vaccine partnerships between unlikely country partners could cause major breakthroughs; in the Middle East, fruition of this approach could lead to vaccines for leishmaniasis, a particularly horrific neglected tropical disease (NTD) currently wreaking havoc in Syria. Product development partnerships are also key assets. The Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development (Sabin PDP) works on a vaccine portfolio for NTDs — including hookworm through the HOOKVAC consortium, schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease — that specifically affect people living in low- and middle-income countries. Finally, South-South collaboration will be integral in expanding vaccine diplomacy and vaccine science diplomacy.

With the coordination and collaboration of many global partners, we can increase the use of vaccine diplomacy and vaccine science diplomacy in foreign policy. Dr. Hotez remains optimistic that this is possible, given the strong legacy of international scientists, vaccine developers, global health practitioners and government officials joining together for the same goal of improved health everywhere.

Please read the full article, “’Vaccine Diplomacy’: Historical Perspectives and Future Directions” at this link.