Growing Vaccinated Fruits and Vegetables

ByABC News
October 10, 2000, 10:26 AM

Oct. 11 -- Charles Arntzen wants to save the lives of millions of children threatened by deadly infectious diseases, and he wants to do it by feeding them a slice of a banana.

We know what the problem is, he says as he leans back in a chair on a courtyard at Arizona State University in Tempe. We have 15 million kids dying every year in Third World countries from infectious diseases that could be prevented.

And we know what the solution is, he adds. It is to inoculate those children with vaccines that can fight off diseases such as hepatitis B, cholera, and various deadly types of diarrhea.

Inoculations Problematic

Although major progress has been made in inoculating children in much of the world, in the poorest of the poor nations, little has been achieved. That leaves about 20 percent of the worlds infants vulnerable to horrible diseases, according to the World Health Organization.

Inoculating these impoverished children is almost impossible with the current technology, Arntzen says. Vaccines that are now available have to be injected, with the single exception of the oral polio vaccine. And injections are too expensive and too problematical in much of the world.

Vaccines need to be refrigerated from the point of manufacture to the point of use, Arntzen says. They usually need skilled medical delivery people because they are delivered by needles, and needles are potentially hazardous. Contaminated needles may do more to spread disease than contain it.

Although philanthropic organizations pick up most of the cost, hundreds of millions of children are left unprotected because an inoculation that may cost pennies to produce is simply out of their reach.

What to do about all of that has consumed Arntzen ever since a 1990 conference in New York City, sponsored by the WHO. The Childrens Vaccine Initiative came out of that meeting, and it changed the life of Arntzen, then a plant biologist at Texas A&M University.