Will vaccines save us from antimicrobial resistance?

By Laura Mize • Published: October 30th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when a strain of bacteria becomes less vulnerable to antibiotic medication that should kill it. This happens as specific strains encounter antibiotics and develop defenses against them. In some cases, the medication is no longer effective against the bacteria at all. Some bacteria resist multiple antibiotics, earning them the nickname “superbugs.” A world full of superbugs is a nightmare scenario that has scientists rightly concerned.

As antimicrobial resistance becomes a greater problem worldwide, scientists are exploring strategies to tackle the challenge. An idea that’s gaining traction is that of relying more on vaccines. Increased use of existing vaccines, and the creation of new ones, are key to prevailing over germs that survive antibiotics.

A group commissioned by the British government recently issued a report on ways to combat antimicrobial resistance, listing vaccines as a crucial tool. The report emphasizes the need for more research and greater funding. It also notes that no vaccines exist for bacteria tagged by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as those that pose the greatest danger.

But a relatively new vaccine against a pneumococcal bacteria that causes pneumonia, meningitis and ear and sinus infections has shown benefits in the less than two decades it has been widely used. A study showed that it reduced these infections overall, and also cut antibiotic-resistant cases. The resistant infections were down 64 percent in kids and 45 percent in senior citizens, both vulnerable populations.

Those are impressive numbers. Perhaps vaccines will save us from a dismal future of antibiotic resistance.