Urgent call for better use of existing vaccines and development of new vaccines to tackle AMR

July 12, 2022
A report analyzes vaccines in development to fight antimicrobial resistance

The World Health Organization released the first-ever report on the pipeline of the vaccines currently in development to prevent infections caused by antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) bacterial pathogens. WHO’s analysis points to the need to accelerate trials for AMR related vaccines in late-stage development and maximize the use of existing vaccines.

The silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance is of major growing public health concern. Resistant bacterial infections alone are associated with nearly 4.95 million deaths per year, with 1.27 million deaths directly attributed to AMR. But AMR is about more than bacterial infections.  AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines. When an individual becomes infected with these microbes, the infection is said to be resistant to antimicrobial medicines. These infections are often difficult to treat.

Vaccines are powerful tools to prevent infections in the first place, and therefore have the potential to curb the spread of AMR infections. The AMR vaccine pipeline report aims to guide investments and research into feasible vaccines to mitigate AMR.

The analysis identifies sixty-one vaccine candidates in various stages of clinical development, including several in late stages of development to address diseases listed on the bacterial priority pathogens list, which WHO has prioritized for R&D. While the report describes these late-stage vaccine candidates as having a high development feasibility, the report cautions that most will not be available anytime soon.

The report calls for equitable and global access to the vaccines that already exist, especially among populations that need them most in limited-resource settings. There are already vaccines available against four priority bacterial pathogens: pneumococcal disease (Streptococcus pneumoniae), Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and Typhoid fever (Salmonella Typhi). Current Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccines against tuberculosis (TB) do not adequately protect against TB and the development of more effective vaccines against TB should be accelerated. The remaining three vaccines are effective, and we need to increase the number of people receiving them to contribute to a reduction in the use of antibiotics and prevent further deaths.

Of significance in the global fight against AMR, the bacteria noted in the priority pathogens list pose a significant threat to public health precisely because of their resistance to antibiotics – but they currently have a very weak vaccine pipeline in terms of the number of candidates and feasibility. Vaccines against these pathogens are unlikely to be available in the short term, and alternative interventions should be pursued urgently to prevent resistant infections due to priority bacterial pathogens

The report examines some of the challenges facing vaccine innovation and development, including for pathogens associated with hospital-acquired infections (HAI). These include the difficulty in defining target population(s) among all admitted hospital patients; the cost and complexity of vaccine efficacy trials; and the lack of regulatory and/or policy precedent for vaccines against HAIs.

WHO release