18 Brickfield Road, Salt River, Cape Town
+27 21 300 0106

Maternal vaccines: a development that will change lives

The first 4 weeks of life are incredibly risky, but maternal vaccines could save millions of vulnerable lives.

Did you know that almost half of the 5.2 million children who die each year before reaching the age of 5 do so within the first four weeks?

The first month of life is an extremely vulnerable time for infants. They’re too young for vaccines, their immune systems aren’t functioning fully and this makes many diseases disproportionately deadly. Apart from keeping these tiny, helpless babies in a plastic bubble away from all risks (something I’m sure many parents are tempted to do), a great equaliser – one that will help across both geography and poverty-lines – is maternal vaccines. Prof Eftyhia Vardas, Clinical Virologist and Head of Virology Lancet Laboratories explains, “The concept has been around for some time. During antenatal visits, expectant mothers can receive pertussis and influenza vaccines to safeguard their infants. Only non-live vaccines are administered during pregnancy since they can pass through the placenta, providing pre-formed protection to the baby upon birth. And that is fantastic! The potential benefits are remarkable.”


As the Gates Foundation explains: “Vaccinating women during pregnancy can not only protect them from disease but can also enable them to pass protective antibodies to their babies, in a process known as passive immunity. These maternal antibodies offer newborns critical protection in the vulnerable first days and months of life.”

“These maternal antibodies offer newborns critical protection.”

There is some pretty remarkable data to back this up.

  • Tetanus: The Gates Foundation explains, “The campaign to vaccinate pregnant women in South Africa and elsewhere with two doses of a tetanus vaccine reduced the number of infants who died from tetanus by 90%, from about half a million babies each year to fewer than 50,000.”
  • Pertussis (whooping cough): Given during pregnancy, this vaccine is 95% effective at preventing infant deaths from the disease. 
  • Covid-19: According to the CDC, 2 doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccination series during pregnancy might help prevent COVID-19 hospitalisation for infants under 6 months of age. 

As we’ve previously written, maternal vaccines although not new, are an exciting field for growth. “What’s quite revolutionary,” says Deborah Atherly, Global Head of Policy, Access, and Introduction at the PATH Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access, in an interview with PharmaScout, “is they are vaccinating the mother to save the infant.” As The Washington Post explains, “…maternal vaccination is a way of giving babies a temporary, but immediate, shield of immune protection.”


There is huge potential for maternal vaccines to significantly help with some of the more deadly newborn diseases, and some of the more fatal diseases have scientists actively working on vaccines. 

  • RSV: Pfizer’s latest RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) vaccine is generating a lot of interest. It’s a critical development because this virus can be extremely dangerous for babies under 6 months old due to their tiny airways, and it’s the primary reason why infants end up in hospitals. 
  • Group B streptococcus (GBS): This bacteria is highly dangerous and is linked to stillbirth, sepsis, an overwhelming infection in the blood and is the leading cause of infant meningitis. 

If these vaccines are developed, they could change the lives of families across the world – and particularly those of people who do not have access to high-level, responsive medical care. 

Added to this, maternal vaccines are not only good for infants; they’re also linked to benefits for the mother.  “Maternal immunisation is a three-in-one value proposition,” the Gates Foundation explains, “It confers protection to the mother, it directly influences the outcome of the pregnancy, and it protects the infant, especially during the period of time when the child is most vulnerable.”

In many ways, this is a thrilling time for medicine, with many lives to be forever changed by access to medical care that thinks around, and in fact, out of the box entirely. 

If you’re also an out-of-the-box thinker, contact PharmaScout to see how we can personalise a refrigeration solution for your business.

Get in touch today!