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Antimicrobial Resistance 2020

Saving lives with vaccines and antibiotics

iStock / Getty images Plus / frithyboy

Thomas Cueni

Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and Chair of the AMR Industry Alliance

The coronavirus pandemic has brought vaccines into sharp focus; but we must not forget their importance in tackling the rise of superbugs.

While we count the months until a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is available, it is easy to forget that there are many existing vaccines that play a crucial role in fending off other potential health crises. One such crisis is antimicrobial resistance.

The role of antibiotics

Antibiotics are used widely in medicine today. They are used to treat pneumonia, plus urinary tract and blood stream infections. They also stave off infections when receiving chemotherapy and after having a wisdom tooth out.

While COVID-19 is a virus, and antibiotics serve no purpose in treating it directly, antibiotics are essential when treating COVID-19 bacterial complications.

However, antibiotics are increasingly victims of their own success. Their wide use has accelerated the natural process of bacteria adapting, so more bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics.

These so-called superbugs are the result of a problem known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Today, it is estimated that AMR takes 700,000  lives each year; and if we do not take more care, this number will only get worse.

Using vaccines to prevent diseases

There is some good news, and this is where existing vaccines come into play. Certain vaccines help prevent diseases that might require the use of antibiotics, as a result reduce their use and misuse which safeguards their effectiveness.

Today, it is estimated that AMR takes 700,000 lives each year; and if we do not take more care, this number will only get worse.

For example, the pneumococcus bacteria that leads to pneumonia, earache, sinusitis and many more serious infections can be avoided thanks to pneumococcal vaccine.  

Worldwide, there are around 14.5 million global pneumococcal cases in one year alone. With more widespread Streptococcus pneumoniae vaccination, we could avoid 11.4 million days of antibiotic use per year in children under five.

Encouraging responsible use of antibiotics

As the global community focuses all its efforts on tackling COVID-19, it must factor into its efforts the prudent use of antibiotics.

It must not lose sight of the importance of uptake of those vaccines that protect people from illness that would or could require antibiotic treatment.

Failure to do so, will only lead to the increase of AMR; and undermine further our health systems and modern medicine as we know it.

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