LONDON – More use of vaccines would reduce the need to use antibiotics and help fight the rise of drug-resistant superbug infections, according to a British government-commissioned review of the threat.
In the latest report on so-called antimicrobial resistance, published on Thursday, the head of the review, British treasury minister Jim O'Neill, said more focus should be put on using existing vaccines and developing new ones.
Vaccines can combat drug resistance because they reduce cases of infection and lessen the need for antibiotics. Any use of antibiotics promotes the development and spread of multi-drug-resistant infections, or superbugs, he said.
"There are vaccines available now that could have a massive impact on antibiotic use and resistance, as well as saving many lives if used more widely," O'Neill's report said.
As an example, he said shots that protect against a bug that causes pneumonia, Streptococcus pneumonia - which kills more than 800,000 children a year - should be given worldwide.
"Universal coverage with a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, something that is already used in many parts of the world, could largely prevent the 800,000 yearly deaths of children under five caused by Streptococcus pneumonia," O'Neill said.
"It could also prevent over 11 million days of antibiotic use in these children, reducing the chance of resistance developing."
Drugmakers Pfizer and GSK both make vaccines designed to protect babies, children and adults against Streptococcus pneumonia.
In O'Neill's first report, he estimated antibiotic and microbial resistance could kill an extra 10 million people a year and cost up to $100 trillion by 2050 if it is not brought under control.
O'Neill, asked in 2014 by British Prime Minister David Cameron to review the problem and suggest ways to combat it, will make final recommendations in May, setting out action plans to tackle drug-resistant infections globally.
In this latest report, O'Neill, a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, noted that vaccines are also a vital way of protecting livestock and fish from infections, and reducing the need for antibiotics in farming - a major part of the problem.
The European Commission said on Thursday its policy-makers are reviewing strategy to fight superbugs after EU research found growing levels of drug resistance in bacteria that cause food poisoning, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter.