It is Antibiotics Awareness Week (14 to 20 November). This year the focus is on the critical role that vaccines are likely to play in curbing anti-microbial resistance (AMR) and preventing antibiotic resistant superbugs. Vaccines are the only option for the foreseeable future, until a new stream of antibiotics are brought to market. According to experts, this may still be a long way off.
Pharma Dynamics is launching a national education campaign over the next few months. The campaign is aimed at healthcare practitioners and consumers. It promotes the responsible use of the antibiotic and addresses the dangers of AMR. This supports the framework set by the National Department of Health (NDoH) to boost vaccine uptake within the public and private health systems by 2024.
Annemarie Blackmore, Pharma Dynamics’ Antimicrobials Category Manager, says the effective roll-out of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) expanded programme of immunisation (EPI) is paramount in the ongoing fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs. “Antibiotic resistance is when an antibiotic loses its ability to effectively control or kill bacterial growth. It is caused by the unnecessary and incorrect use of antibiotics.”
She explains that vaccines have the potential to decrease disease, which can in turn reduce the need for antibiotic use. “South Africa is still some way off in meeting its immunisation targets. This has become a top priority given the alarming rise in superbugs in recent years.”
The total immunisation coverage in the country over the 2013/2014 period stood at 84.4%. This is according to the latest district health barometer by the Health Systems Trust… an NPO with a focus on improving health systems in the country. The figure points to a drop in almost ten percentage points from the 94% coverage. This indicates a significant decline in the overall administration of vaccines.
Blackmore notes that there are some logistical and supply issues that could potentially play a role. There is often a lack of access and extended waiting periods particularly in the public sector. “Certain provincial health departments also failed to renew a memorandum of understanding that allowed medical staff in the private sector to use government vaccines.”
She adds that there remains a misconception that vaccines could cause autism in children. This has sparked a wide debate on social media and the news around the safety of vaccines.
“The outcry by parents and healthcare-givers was triggered by news reports of a now retracted British study that linked autism to the childhood vaccine for Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR). The study has since been proven fraudulent by an investigation published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The damaging effects remain, leaving many parents in two minds about whether to vaccinate their children.”
Dr Malcolm Miller, Intensivist and Anaesthesiologist at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) academic hospital, adds.
“Contrary to these mistaken beliefs, vaccines are and will continue to play a pivotal role in combatting anti-microbial resistance. Even more so in the next two to three decades. As an example, if rolled out globally, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine – used to protect against the streptococcus pneumonia bacterium – could effectively avert 11.4 million days of antibiotic use per year in children under the age of five. Meningitis and pneumonia are life-threatening diseases caused by this bacterium. They kill more than 800 000 children annually. Yet some people still choose not to vaccinate against it. S.pneumoniae is one of the vaccines that form part of the NDoH’s expanded programme of immunisation.”
According to Dr Miller there is more than a 30-year void in the discovery of new types of antibiotics, with no registered classes of antibiotics having been discovered since 1984, which reaffirms the importance of using what precious antibiotics we do have, responsibly. “Already AMR is estimated to kill more than 700 000 people globally per year. If not addressed, 10 million people are expected to die annually because of drug-resistance by 2025.”
To succeed will require a concerted effort by all, including big pharma. Blackmore’s message to consumers is clear. “The onus of antibiotic stewardship does not only fall on the shoulders of medical professionals. Everyone can and should play their part by vaccinating themselves and their loved ones against the diseases outlined in the expanded immunisation programme.”