How Big Data Helps Vaccines Improve

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The history of vaccines dates back to the 1790s when Edward Jenner created the first vaccine for smallpox. Throughout the years more vaccines have been made, and some diseases have been eradicated. The current culture of globalization, immigration, and economic growth have allowed new infections to emerge and those that we thought were gone to come back. Researchers believe that more advancements will come when vaccines meet big data, allowing for personalized vaccine design and administration. The emergence of data analytics in healthcare and life sciences strives to gather information to place the patient where they should be in the healthcare industry — right in the center.

History of Vaccines

Vaccines began with the long history of disease in humans. Evidence shows that the Chinese employed smallpox vaccination as early as 1000 CE. Once Edward Jenner created immunity to smallpox by using cowpox, the practice became widespread. Advancements in medicine and technology resulted in the eradication of smallpox.

Following Jenner’s discoveries in vaccinology came names like Pasteur, Salk, and Sabin. With each advancement came benefits to the public and the need for new approaches to the creation of new vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 83.4 percent of all children aged 19-35 months received the Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DPT) vaccine in 2016. Over 90 percent of children in the same age group received polio, Hepatitis B, and Chickenpox vaccinations.

The work in vaccinology isn’t done. Around the globe, under-vaccination is happening every day due to the lack of education and ability to pay for this life-saving disease prevention strategy. Technology might be the best shot out there to find new ways to pull together critical information and save lives.

The Importance of Vaccinations

Vaccines aren’t just for children. Adults benefit from many vaccines that can protect them from dangerous or even deadly illnesses. Diseases that can be prevented through vaccinations can cause long-term illness, hospitalization, and death. Getting vaccinated also cuts down on the spread of diseases such as flu, whooping cough, and meningitis. Chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma can weaken the immune system making some vaccine-preventable illnesses more severe. The list of needed vaccines is different from one country to the next. Many countries require the BCG vaccine for Tuberculosis. However, this vaccine isn’t necessary in the U.S. because Tuberculosis happens with such low incidence.

Protecting yourself with vaccination isn’t only good for health, but it’s beneficial to the bank accounts of individuals, insurance companies, and the government. Getting sick is costly and might include medical visits, treatment, and missing school or work.

More people than ever travel, making vaccination crucial to overall well-being. Traveling outside of the U.S. can expose you to an illness that isn’t common here. For example, if you’re heading to Belize, you probably need to get a typhoid vaccine to protect you from typhoid contaminated food and water.

Big Data in the Healthcare Industry

Americans spent $3.5 trillion on healthcare in 2017 according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Many technology companies are trying to find ways, such as AI in healthcare, into this lucrative industry. This dollar figure isn’t only racked up within the confines of hospitals and other medical treatment facilities. The School of Business at The George Washington University reported that Americans spent $93.6 billion on nutrition, $61.6 billion on weight loss, and $11.3 billion on alternative medicine.

Americans are looking for advancements and are willing to spend their money to get them.  The public is open to innovative options for care such as wireless defibrillators and pacemaker checkups, evaluating vital signs with smartphone technology, and performing electrocardiograms at home with a mobile app. Up to 82 percent of consumers even said they were open to trying new ways of seeking medical attention. All of this data has people in the big data and technology business excited.

Vaccinology 3.0 Framework

Vaccinology 1.0 began with the smallpox injection. Second generation vaccines include tetanus, diphtheria, and influenza. Vaccinology 3.0 will be achieved with the help of big data. As more health systems and physicians transition to online medical records, access to a wealth of data is possible. Big data can help with vaccine discovery and development as well as the creation of safety monitoring to generate more information about how consumers react to the vaccine education.

Big data can help collect vaccine-related information through mobile and smartphone applications. It can also see how often people search for vaccination and other related keywords online. Data about people’s perceptions of vaccines and why they choose to vaccinate or not can help healthcare workers engage with consumers and plan communication strategies to educate the public about vaccinations better and promote literacy.

Examples of the use of big data to improve vaccination numbers include Project Tycho at the University of Pittsburgh. This project gives access to historical records on more than 56 diseases. Researchers can use this data to pinpoint areas of interest and better understand consumer behaviors. As diseases like measles are making a comeback, the public needs big data to provide insight into the future of disease prevention.

Strengthening Disease Prevention

Some countries are using big data to help end preventable deaths. As stories like Ines Sampaio’s come out, more people are wondering how to use modern advancements to alert doctors and consumers about the risks of under-vaccination.

Sampaio wasn’t vaccinated against measles on the advice of her physician. However, all of her siblings had received their vaccines, meaning there wasn’t any suggestion that her family was anti-vaccination. When an outbreak happened in Portugal, Sampaio’s death was the first from the outbreak since the disease had been declared eradicated in the country.

Electronic vaccination records could be vital to the advancement of disease prevention. Some countries, including the UK, use the records to pinpoint areas where vaccination uptake is too low. This information is then used to provide targeted education to doctors and health authorities to raise the number of vaccinations to acceptable levels.

The possibilities with big data and vaccinology are endless. Lists could be automatically generated to identify under-vaccinated populations, determining what vaccines are overdue, and giving reminders to doctors and the public. Systems such as these might be the best use of big data in the quest of delivering holistic and safe health to people around the globe.

About the Author

Avery Phillips is a freelance human based out of the beautiful Treasure Valley. She loves all things in nature, especially humans. Leave a comment down below or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or comments.


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