Trials of new vaccine candidates must be accelerated and existing vaccine use stepped up to prevent life-threatening infections that can no longer be beaten by antimicrobial medicines, says World Health Organization (WHO).
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) — when bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites become unresponsive to medicines such as antibiotics or antivirals — has been identified by the WHO as one of the biggest global threats to public health and is growing worldwide.
In 2019, an estimated 4.95 million deaths were associated with AMR, says a new WHO report which is the first ever on the pipeline of bacterial vaccines under development.
5.7m preventable deaths
An estimated 5.7 million deaths occur each year in low- and middle-income countries which could have been prevented if the right antibiotics were used, according to the UN agency.
Infections linked with ventilators and catheters are up to 13 times higher in low-resource countries than in the United States, while hospital infections among newborns in low-income countries are up to 20 times higher than in high-income countries, WHO figures show.
But the WHO report says that vaccines can be powerful tools to ward off such infections, potentially helping to minimise the use of antimicrobial medicines.
Preventing infections via vaccination
“Preventing infections using vaccination reduces the use of antibiotics, which is one of the main drivers of AMR,” said WHO assistant director-general for antimicrobial resistance Hanan Balkhy. “Yet, of the top six bacterial pathogens responsible for deaths due to AMR, only one, Pneumococcal disease [Streptococcus pneumoniae] has a vaccine.”