Can Plant-Derived Vaccines Exist? Understanding The Future Of Vaccinations

July 3, 2019

There are a great many deadly diseases in the world, from cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio to measles, tuberculosis, and tetanus. While not all of these can be vaccinated against, a good majority of them are eligible; as such, the safest way to treat them is to prevent contraction to begin with via vaccines.

Unfortunately, more and more Americans are turning their backs on this option. In spite of the fact that they prevent more than 2.5 million unnecessary deaths every year, many people have become focused on the fact that they are derived from animal products; vegans and vegetarians who changed their diets for ethical reasons refuse to inoculate themselves and their children with a vaccine that contains something that came from a living thing. Let’s find out why these products are necessary before we look to the future of vaccines — and the possibility that they could be derived from plants.

Why Are Animal Products Required For Vaccine Development?

Vaccines contain either killed or weakened forms of disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Before these can be used, however, they need to be grown in a lab; success depends on whether or not scientists can create the ideal environment (i.e., an infected person’s tissues) for these bacteria and viruses to survive and thrive in. This means that they must use solutions containing sugars, salts, and various meat extracts to make “growth media.”

Animal products are perfect for this purpose. Viral vaccines need to be produced in living cells, which means that nutrients easily supplied by blood and serum are instrumental in their growth and development. Synthetic media has not been able to achieve the same level of success as the bovine-derived materials used in the animal-based growth media.

Plant-Based Vaccines

However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find those nutrients elsewhere. People have been using plants for healing and treating various ailments going back almost 5,000 years, so the idea of using the natural product to develop vaccines seems reasonable. In addition to appeasing vegans and animal lovers the world over, the World Health Organization highlights the benefits of plant-derived vaccines:

“Plant-derived vaccines can offer advantages over traditional vaccines in global immunization programs. The use of vaccines produced by traditional methods are associated with difficulties including cost, requirement for injection, lack of heat stability, lack of mucosal effectiveness, and an increasing need for combination vaccines.”

Although we’ve made progress toward such a goal (studies have made strides in expressing vaccine antigens in edible leaves, especially lettuce), we aren’t quite there yet. Only time will tell whether we can use plant materials to protect ourselves from the world’s most dangerous diseases.

Although vaccines can’t be used to prevent all diseases, they are instrumental in preventing the unnecessary loss of human life. It might be impossible to protect yourself and your family against the 200 million human pathogens spread by wild rodents, but you can absolutely take a stand against the more common and deadly forms of bacteria and viruses thanks to vaccines. We may not have plant-derived vaccines quite yet, but they do seem to be on the horizon; until they arrive, make sure you’re taking the right precautions and are receiving your annual inoculations.

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