The global reach and devastating impact of COVID-19 were hard to imagine before the pandemic. As countries and healthcare systems start to emerge from the pandemic, there is increasing focus on what may cause the next public health crisis, and what steps can be taken to mitigate its impact.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) as one of the top ten most concerning global health threats currently facing humanity.1 AMR is when the micro-organisms (pathogens) which cause infection survive contact with medicines that would normally kill them or stop their growth. In the case of bacteria, this allows the resistant bacteria to multiply and spread, eventually becoming the dominant strain and creating what are known as ‘superbugs’ which render antibiotic medicine ineffective.
AMR causes 700,000 deaths globally each year, affecting people of all demographics, geographies, and ages.2 If no action is taken, it’s estimated that by 2050 drug-resistant pathogens could cause 10 million deaths per year.3 But just as the global scientific community understands the threats of AMR, it also knows that the public can very much be a part of reducing its risks.
Crucially, the WHO has identified vaccines as one of the most effective tools to control and prevent AMR.4 Vaccines offer protection by preventing infections and their transmission, whether antimicrobial resistant or not, and can be used for decades with a much lower probability of the pathogen developing resistance compared with antibiotics.5
However, protecting the public against the risks of AMR and superbugs will not prove to be an easy task. As millions followed Government advice and stayed at home to control the spread of COVID-19 and protect their loved ones, the pandemic has had an unintended impact on the uptake of routine vaccinations across the globe. The consequent fall in global vaccination rates has led to the WHO and UNICEF warning of an alarming decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines, including those for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.6
In the UK, a report co-authored by Public Health England and NHS Digital has uncovered how coverage for all of the childhood vaccinations has declined since 2014.7 The WHO recommends that on a national basis at least 95% of children are immunised against vaccine-preventable diseases.7 However, in 2019/20 for the second consecutive year, none of the UK’s routine vaccinations met this target.7 This evidence underscores how the pandemic has worsened the declining trend in children’s vaccine update rates and is resulting in more infants and children who are under-vaccinated.8
As social distancing restrictions ease and more people circulate, there is a greater risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases. Timely vaccination is crucial in ensuring populations are effectively maintaining immunity against life-threatening illnesses, such as those caused by AMR. Health services around the world, including the NHS, are now working hard to implement catch-up vaccination strategies, helping to offset the disruption caused by the pandemic.
We all – in the life sciences sector, in government, and as individuals – have an important role to play in the fight against emerging superbugs and must recognise that one of the best ways to help control its spread is to keep our vaccinations up to date.
- World Health Organisation, (2020). Antimicrobial Resistance Accessed Nov 2021
- World Health Organisation, (2019). New report calls for urgent action to avert antimicrobial resistance crisis. Accessed Nov 2021
- Devi, S., (2020). No time to lower the guard on AMR. The Lancet Microbe, 1(5), p.e198 Accessed Nov 2021
- World Health Organisation, (2021). Leveraging Vaccines to Reduce Antibiotic Use and Prevent Antimicrobial Resistance Accessed Nov 2021
- Micoli, F., Bagnoli, F., Rappuoli, R. et al., (2021) The role of vaccines in combatting antimicrobial resistance. Nat Rev Microbiol 19, 287–302 Accessed Nov 2021
- World Health Organisation, (2020) WHO and UNICEF warn of a decline in vaccinations during COVID-19 Accessed Nov 2021
- Nuffield Trust, (2021. Vaccination coverage for children and mothers Accessed Nov 2021
- Public Health England, (2021). Top 10 tips for increasing vaccine uptake. Accessed Nov 2021
PP-HOS-GBR-0036 / November 2021