Why is vaccination important for addressing antibiotic resistance?

Online Q&A
November 2016

Q: Why is vaccination important for addressing antibiotic resistance?

A: Vaccines can help limit the spread of antibiotic resistance.

The global increase in disease caused by drug-resistant bacteria, due to overuse and misuse of antibiotics, is a major public health concern. It is more difficult and costly to treat antibiotic-resistant infections and people do not always recover.

Vaccinating humans and animals is a very effective way to stop them from getting infected and thereby preventing the need for antibiotics.

Making better use of existing vaccines and developing new vaccines are important ways to tackle antibiotic resistance and reduce preventable illness and deaths.

Q: How can existing vaccines have an impact?

A: Expanding the use of existing vaccines will reduce the use of antibiotics and the development of resistance.

For example, if every child in the world received a vaccine to protect them from infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria (which can cause pneumonia, meningitis and middle ear infections), this would prevent an estimated 11 million days of antibiotic use each year.

Vaccines against viruses, such as the flu, also have a role to play, because people often take antibiotics unnecessarily when they have symptoms such as fever that can be caused by a virus.

Q: How can new vaccines have an impact?

A: Developing and using new vaccines to prevent bacterial diseases can further reduce the development of resistance.

Antibiotics are currently the standard medical intervention for common diseases such as Group A Streptococcus (which causes “strep throat”), for which we do not yet have vaccines.

We also need vaccines to stop people from catching diseases caused by bacteria that are now frequently antibiotic-resistant. For example, there is an alarming spread of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). In 2015, an estimated 480 000 people were infected with MDR-TB.

Similarly, new vaccines targeting Staphylococcus aureus (which causes skin and soft tissue infections), Klebsiella pneumoniae (which causes pneumonia and infections of the blood stream and urinary tract), Clostridium difficile (which causes diarrhoeal disease), and many others could protect people against diseases that are increasingly difficult to treat.

Developing new vaccines and getting them used appropriately is lengthy and complex. The scientific community needs to prioritise which new vaccines would have the greatest impact on antibiotic resistance, and promote investment in these.

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