Vaccine-preventable diseases are still responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million children under the age of 5 years annually, mostly in developing countries. A substantial number of these deaths are due to pneumococcal bacteria and infections with rotavirus. Important issues faced by the WHO, governments, vaccine manufacturers, and international organizations such as UNICEF and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) are the cost-effective introduction of these life-saving vaccines in resource-poor countries where there is a considerable disease burden, and achieving high rates of completion of vaccination schedules remains elusive. Problems with vaccine coverage and vaccine delivery in these regions are significant, as in some cases large proportions of the target population do not receive adequate vaccination. Consequently, there is a need to develop more effective vaccination strategies that can provide adequate protection with reduced schedules. To date, emphasis has been placed on identifying novel vaccine antigens and adjuvants that induce stronger protective immune responses, as well as developing mucosally-administered vaccines. These approaches would have enormous benefits in allowing safe administration of vaccines in remote areas and may overcome the necessity for multiple doses. In this regard, the use of probiotic bacteria as novel mucosal adjuvants to enhance existing vaccine specific-immune responses offers an exciting new approach. In this review, we discuss the evidence for the role of probiotics in enhancing vaccine responses and provide justification for further investigation into their clinical effects and mechanisms of action.
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