Vaccines from GMOs

Baby Rei had his immunization shot today.

Doctors, unlike in the old days, do it 6-in-1 these days using a product like INFANRIX hexa. This is a vaccine that is used to prevent six diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, poliomyelitis (polio) and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). The vaccine works by causing the body to produce its own protection (antibodies) against these diseases. But more about this later.

On ocassions we read in the local media of people’s concerns about eating food produced from genetically modified (GM) crops. But few know that quite a number of medicines and vaccines that the doctors prescribed to us are actually manufactured using genetic biotechnologies. For example, the Hib vaccine I mentioned above is produced by the culture of genetically-engineered yeast cells which carry the gene coding for the antigen of the hepatitis B virus (HBV). One of the usual ways to engineer and modify the DNA of yeast is to use bacterial plasmids, and in this case, will have transfered the HBV antigen-encoding gene.

Last year, my 16-year old daughter finished the last (the third) shot of her Gardasil vaccine. This is a vaccine which is prepared from the purified virus-like particles (VLP) of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts, and Gardasil is the first vaccine approved for use in young women for its prevention. As in the case of the HBV vaccine, Gardasil’s active ingredient — the antigen VLP for HPV — is produced by genetically-modified yeasts.

If you have a diabetic friend or relative, chances are he does not know that he is using the first major product of biotechnology — insulin. This was first done in 1973 using recombinant DNA technology in which a human insulin-producing gene is engineered into bacteria.

Note: Biotechnology: Our Future As Human Beings and Citizens is a collection of essays on the recent advances in biomedical science and technology in which the writers reflect upon the challenges posed by biotechnology: of securing the good that is motivated by the desire to cure disease and relieve human suffering and by the desire to respect life, and human dignity.

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