This blog post was co-written by Janika Hauser, Parliamentary Advocacy Officer for Tuberculosis, and Yasmin Mahboubi, Parliamentary Advocacy Officer for Child Health, to mark World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2018. 

Since their discovery in 1928 by biologist Sir Alexander Fleming, antibiotics have served as the cornerstone of modern medicine. However, the persistent overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has accelerated the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance, which occurs when microbes, such as bacteria, become resistant to the drugs used to treat them. Antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, is a significant problem globally. Infections that have developed a resistance to treatment by antibiotics cause 700,000 deaths per year, and this number could rise to 10 million by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.

Vaccines are one of the most critical tools in the fight against AMR. Vaccines are effective because they prevent diseases from occurring in the first instance, thus negating the need for treatment and reducing the chance of drug-resistance emerging. Increasing global vaccination coverage is a highly cost-effective solution to slow AMR by cutting the use of antibiotics. Between 2016 and 2020, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, will vaccinate millions of children against two drivers of antibiotic use – meningitis and pneumonia – which is estimated to prevent the use of over 100 million doses of antibiotics. Given what we know about the power of vaccines in tackling AMR, it is worrying to know that 1 in 10 children still receive no vaccinations at all, and global vaccination rates are stagnating and in some places, declining.

Even for diseases where drug-resistance already presents a major challenge, vaccines remain one of the best ways to tackle epidemics and save lives. That is why the development of new, more effective vaccines against diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), which already has very high levels of drug-resistance, is a major global priority. In 2017, 10 million people fell ill with TB and there were 1.3 million TB-related deaths worldwide. Drug-resistant TB currently causes around 1-in-3 AMR-associated deaths and remains the leading killer of people living with HIV. Many people think there is an effective vaccine for TB, however, the current TB vaccine (known as the BCG vaccine) is outdated, only effective in a minority of children and wears off before adulthood.

AMR and drug-resistant-TB is a scary prospect, but there is hope. For example, a ground breaking clinical trial has just made a massive breakthrough in developing a new TB vaccine. It needs more work, but it is a huge step forward in the fight again TB and AMR. The trial results demonstrate the importance of sustainable financing for R&D with researchers using the lessons of years’ of unsuccessful clinical trials to develop this new, vastly improved TB vaccine. It will be exciting to see what happens next, and how the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative builds on this momentum to advance the search for a truly effective TB vaccine.”

World Antibiotic Awareness Week aims to increase global awareness of AMR and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers to avoid the further emergence and spread of AMR. At RESULTS UK, we believe that prevention is better than cure. We want to see prevention prioritised by the UK and in global discussions around AMR if it is to be effectively tackled. This means better access to existing vaccines, and greater research into the development of new vaccines. As this year’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week slogan says; “Change can’t wait – our time with antibiotics is running out.”