IMG_3969“I did it to keep you safe.”

Lynda Stuart, MD, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shared a memory from her childhood in the Caribbean: After being immunized for BCG (the vaccine given in some part of the world to protect against tuberculosis), she tearfully looked up at her mother and asked “Why did you do that?” Her mom’s answer: “To keep you safe.”

Stuart, along with IDRI scientific leaders Dan Stinchcomb, PhD, and Tanya Parish, PhD, were invited speakers at recent panel discussion hosted by The Rainier Club in Seattle. Moderated by Washington Global Health Alliance founding executive director Lisa Cohen, the panel focused on “Mankind vs. Microbes: Seattle’s Role in the Battle against Infectious Disease.”

Stuart kicked off the discussion by sharing her vaccination story and urging people to remember the importance of vaccines in today’s world. “I’m frustrated locally with the number of people who do not choose to take vaccines; that is responsible for the measles outbreak we’re currently facing.”

When asked what keeps him awake at night related to infectious diseases, StinchcombIMG_3977 responded with two key topics: “Tick-borne diseases and preparing for the next pandemic, particularly how we can prepare and provide vaccines in advance. Time and time again, there are outbreaks and we’re simply not ready.” Stuart reminded the audience of a lesson learned from the Ebola outbreak: “While the number of deaths were miniscule, Ebola was impactful because it happened in fragile countries with limited resources. The result was the total collapse of health care systems in some areas, with people being scared of hospitals and children not getting immunized for other diseases.”

While Parish agrees with outbreak preparedness, she reminded the audience that “we need a more balanced approach. We cannot focus all our resources on new diseases, when we have re-emerging diseases or diseases like TB that have been around for hundreds of years still to deal with. Taking our eye off infectious disease as a whole puts everyone at risk.”

From Parish’s standpoint, the rise of antimicrobial resistance is top of mind. “We are living in the age of antibiotics, but I’m fearful we are entering the post-antibiotic age. We need funding to develop new drugs but also we need antibiotic stewardship.” She paused to remind the audience of a couple of key points: “Don’t get antibiotics when you have a viral infection – they don’t work – and take your full course of antibiotics as prescribed. Both of these simple acts will cut down on resistance.”

The importance of collaboration was discussed, with Stinchcomb mentioning that one great thing that came out of the Zika epidemic was the sharing of data through open sources and real-time reporting. Stuart added that collaborations backfill a need created by large pharma and biotechs leaving the field of drug development and the reduced number of pharma making vaccines.

The conversation concluded with a question from the audience related to the impact of proposed budget cuts related to funding for global health. Stinchcomb stated that he felt budget cuts would be greatly impactful not only here in the U.S. but also worldwide.  “The underpinning of our global health sector is supported by federal funding,” Stuart added. “No one can back-fill a gap of the size that would result from proposed cuts.”