Globally there are 4.95 million deaths per year associated with antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Low- and middle-income countries bear the burden of drug-resistant infections. In 2019, the WHO described AMR as one of the top 10 global threats to public health—a threat to which science is playing catch-up in its efforts to mitigate.
A new study published in BMJ Global Health has found that over half a million lives could be saved each year with the effective use of existing vaccines and the continued development of new vaccines to tackle priority pathogens. The study highlights the importance of preventive measures including vaccination in slowing and containing the spread of AMR.
The study was carried out by the WHO, the International Vaccine Institute, Korea (IVI), and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The authors used data from 2019 to model the potential impact of 15 new and existing vaccines against pathogens in the WHO’s list of bacterial priority pathogens.
They found that if the vaccines are used for key populations, not only could half a million lives be saved, but 28 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) would be averted: the numbers of years lost to disability or reduced lifespans as a result of infection. In the scenario where seven of the vaccines were used for broader populations, an additional 1.2 million deaths and 37 million DALYs would be prevented.
According to the study, the biggest reduction in burden would be felt in WHO African and South-East Asian Regions, which currently account for two-thirds of the vaccine-preventable AMR burden. Such introductions and scale-ups would be particularly impactful in reducing the AMR burden of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) and Streptococcus pneumoniae faced in these regions. In 2021, the estimated proportion of people with TB who had drug-resistant TB was 3.6 percent among new cases and 18 percent among those previously treated.
How can vaccines help combat AMR?
Vaccines are a valuable tool in reducing the spread of AMR, alongside other measures to prevent, diagnose, and treat infections, including ensuring access to water, sanitation, and hygiene—especially in health facilities. Infection prevention and control programs, access to and appropriate use of essential diagnostic tools and medicines (antibiotics) are a few other measures.
Vaccines contribute to a decline in infections amongst vaccinated and unvaccinated populations as well as reducing the need to use antimicrobials, thereby reducing the risk of misuse. This, in turn, contributes to reducing the risk of the emergence and spread of resistant strains.
Health systems faced significant strain throughout COVID-19. Recovery of immunization systems and investment in expanding the use of new and existing vaccines to prioritize at-risk populations is a necessary part of ongoing catch-up efforts. AMR is predicted to cost the global economy an estimated cost of USD$100 trillion between 2014 and 2050. There is no time to waste to tap into the potential of scaled-up vaccination efforts to prevent the spread of AMR.
- This press release was originally published on the World Health Organization website