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Hope in a Vial – The Journey Behind Vaccines

A while back, I was traveling abroad on business and as is often the case in my line of work, found myself chatting with a group of mothers. Just like the moms I know back home in the U.S., they worry about their kids. But there was a major difference. These moms lived in a small village in Rwanda where access to health care is often difficult to come by. Even if they hadn’t personally lost a child – even an infant - to disease, they knew someone who had. The heartbreaking truth is that moms there often wait to name their babies until after they’ve gotten vaccinated.

That made two things devastatingly clear to me. First, every day, these families are fighting off diseases that many people in the U.S. have never heard of or forgotten are deadly. And second, while access to vaccines is common in many parts of the world, it is by no means guaranteed for these mothers or their children. 

In the world we live in today, no one should lose their life to a vaccine-preventable illness. I believe that it is our collective responsibility, and it’s something I’ve made my personal mission as the head of Pfizer’s vaccine division.

For Pfizer, solving this global public health challenge will come through innovation.

Picture a small vaccine vial, something you might remember seeing at the doctor’s office. What’s harder to envision are the hours in the lab, the hundreds of quality tests it goes through, and the thousands of people who pour their hearts into creating that single dose.

So, let’s break it down.

Every dose of one of our Pfizer vaccines requires about 400 raw materials. Here, about 1,700 employees will be involved in taking the next 580 steps to turn those ingredients into a vaccine. Then, researchers and scientists will perform 678 quality tests to make sure it will be effective once it reaches your child.

Watch this video to learn more about what goes into making a vaccine.


For each complete batch, from start to finish, the process takes two and a half years. That’s all for a single dose of one vaccine. That tiny vaccine vial is an incredible testament to scientific innovation – and to the passion and perseverance of the many people behind it.

But even after that long, complex process, our job isn’t done – far from it. Vaccines are only as effective as our ability to get them to the people in need. That includes those living in some of the most remote places in the world.

It is also tricky to transport vaccines. They have to be refrigerated and kept at precise temperatures ― no easy feat when reaching people who live in deserts with hundred-degree temperatures or places without paved roads or on the side of a mountain. Today, 19 million kids around the world don’t have the vaccines they need in part because they are difficult to reach.1 Just like the women I talked with in Rwanda, moms around the globe are willing to travel dozens of miles to get their children vaccinated. We owe it to them to make sure the vaccines are there when they arrive. Think of all the life milestones you’ll reach in the next 2.5 years – and know that in that same time we are spending every day making a new batch of a vaccine to help babies, parents and grandparents avoid infections to help them live their healthiest life possible and reach their dreams. So we’re working on solutions to get vaccines to people faster and more efficiently. For example, we’ve innovated ways to fit more doses into a single vaccine vial so it takes up less storage space and makes for easier transport to remote regions in many developing countries.

When I think about the journey of a vaccine – from the inventive mind of a scientist, to the skillful hands of a manufacturing expert carefully creating each dose – traveling across thousands of miles of roads and rivers to some of the world’s hardest to reach places, I think again about those mothers in Rwanda, waiting and counting on us to deliver on the promise of health and hope. This journey will culminate only when every child, teen, and adult can live to their potential with the help of disease-preventing vaccines.

Better public health is our shared challenge. Innovation is a critical part of the solution, and it’s our hope for a healthier world.

At Pfizer Vaccines, we help protect as many people as possible from life-threatening illness with quality vaccines that make an impact across all stages of life. Our employees combine unrelenting passion, global impact, and an enduring quest for progress to unlock the promise and value that vaccines hold for our world.

Learn more at

Susan Silbermann is the Head of Global Vaccines for Pfizer Inc.

By Susan Silbermann - This article originally published on Huffington Post.

1The Gates Foundation 2017 Annual Letter. (Published Februrary 14, 2017)