COVID-19 spurs WHO on to explore novel TB vaccines

SA welcomes launch of new TB Vaccine Accelator Council
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South Africa has welcomed the news that the World Health Organisation (WHO) plans to launch a new TB Vaccine Accelerator Council. The National Department of Health says it’s a critical step in the journey to end tuberculosis.

Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, revealed the plans at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Aligned towards one goal

The Council will facilitate the licensing and use of effective novel TB vaccines catalysing high-level alignment between funders, global agencies, governments, and end users in identifying and overcoming barriers to TB vaccine development.

“The Council is an important structure that could put in place enabling factors to find a TB vaccine to effectively protect against pulmonary tuberculosis. That step is critical in the journey to end TB,” said health department spokesman, Foster Mohale.

Ghebreyesus said COVID-19 revealed that innovative health interventions could be delivered fast if politically prioritised and financed adequately. 

Similarities between COVID-19 and TB

“The challenges presented by TB and COVID-19 are different. The ingredients that accelerate science, research and innovation are the same. 

They include:

  • Urgent, up-front public investment
  • Support from philanthropy; and
  • Engagement of the private sector and communities

We believe the TB field will benefit from similar high-level coordination,” said Ghebreyesus

Despite countries making bold commitments to end TB by 2030, via the Sustainable Development Goals, the WHO End TB Strategy and the 2018 political declaration on the fight against TB, the epidemic shows no sign of slowing down. In 2021, approximately 10.6 million people fell sick with TB and 1.6 million died. Drug resistance continues to be a major problem, with close to half a million people developing drug-resistant TB every year.

BCG is currently the only licensed TB vaccine. It provides moderate efficacy in preventing severe TB in infants and young children. BCG does not adequately protect adolescents and adults, who account for nearly 90% of TB transmissions globally.

TB vaccine possibilities

A recent WHO-commissioned study titled: An investment case for new tuberculosis (TB) vaccines, makes bold estimates about the power of vaccines. 

It estimates that over 25 years, a vaccine that is 50% effective could avert up to 76 million new TB cases, 8.5 million deaths, 42 million courses of antibiotic treatment and US$ 6.5 billion in costs faced by TB-affected households, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable. A vaccine that is 75% effective could avert up to 110 million new TB cases and 12.3 million deaths. – Health-e News



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