Vaccines have a crucial role in tackling antimicrobial resistance

Tackling the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance requires all the tools we have at our disposal — including vaccines.

In a stylised illustration, several rows of illustrated vaccines close in on a group of cartoon microbes.

Jack Cole / Wellcome

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Charlie Weller

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Vaccines have a crucial role in tackling antimicrobial resistance
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Antimicrobial resistance is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. In 2019, it caused over a million deaths globally and was linked to almost five million.

Discovering new antimicrobials to replace those that no longer work is essential, but it isn’t the only way to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

How vaccines can tackle antimicrobial resistance 

Vaccines can help prevent the spread of infections in the first place. Fewer infections mean less antimicrobials are used – therefore reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance and drug-resistant infections.

There’s already promising evidence that vaccines can have both direct and indirect effects on drug-resistant infections. For example, research shows that H. influenzae b. and S. pneumoniae vaccines dramatically reduce the burden of these diseases and the incidences of resistant strains.

Vaccines also have a unique advantage because resistance to vaccines is incredibly rare. The same routine vaccines we give to young children for diphtheria and whooping cough are still being used 70 years on. As a result, we can roll out vaccines to as many people as possible without the risk of resistance developing. In fact, vaccines work better the more people get them. 

Using vaccines to tackle antimicrobial resistance is not a new idea 

And in Gavi’s latest Vaccine Investment Strategy, impact on antimicrobial resistance is used as an evaluation criteria for selecting new vaccines into their portfolio.

However, while recent years have seen a significant increase in initiatives to tackle antimicrobial resistance and increase our understanding of the role vaccines can play – it hasn’t been enough.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest health challenges of the 21st Century.

Despite research showing that vaccines could play a significant role in combatting many of the pathogens whose resistance to antimicrobials poses the greatest threat to human health, vaccines are rarely part of the antimicrobial resistance discussion.

It is vital that we continue to strengthen and utilise the evidence base on the impact of vaccines on the development of antimicrobial resistance, especially in low- and middle-income settings.

We cannot neglect the crucial role of vaccines in combatting this threat. 

  • Charlie Weller

    Head of Prevention, Infectious Disease


    Charlie Weller has been at Wellcome since 2014. In September 2021, she became Head of Prevention in the Infectious Disease team after five years leading the vaccines programme at Wellcome to enable the development of new and improved vaccines and the better use of vaccines. 

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