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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Harvard: Can Vaccines Help Fight the Rise of Drug-resistant Microbes?

Some of the most important medications doctors have at their disposal have been rendered ineffective by parasites, viruses, and bacteria that have evolved resistance against them, and the problem is poised to get worse.

Drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea, salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli) and many other disease-causing agents are flourishing around the world, and the consequences are disastrous — at least 700,000 people die globally as a result of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) annually.

It’s a perilous situation, but several new studies from researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health indicate that an important tool in the fight against AMR already exists: vaccines.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) recently devoted a special feature section to examine the role vaccines can play in stemming the tide of AMR. In general terms, vaccinations can help lessen the burden of AMR in two ways: First, they can protect against the direct transmission of drug-resistant infections. Second, they can lessen the chances of someone getting sick, which in turn reduces the likelihood that he or she will be prescribed antibiotics or other medications. The fewer medications someone takes, the less likely it is that microbes will evolve resistance to the drugs.

“Despite the increased attention paid to vaccination as a response to AMR in recent years, it remains underemphasized in many cases,” said Dr. David Bloom, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography, who co-authored an overview article for the PNAS feature. “Vaccination potentially confers considerable value with regard to its ability to slow the development of antimicrobial resistance and mitigate its worst effects.”

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