By Alfred Koroma
Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has announced plans to establish a new TB Vaccine Accelerator Council.
The Council will facilitate the licensing and use of effective novel vaccines against tuberculosis (TB), catalysing high-level alignment between funders, global agencies, governments and end users in identifying and overcoming barriers to TB vaccine development. It will convene funders, global agencies, governments and those with TB, in identifying and overcoming barriers to vaccine development.
Speaking at a high-level panel at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, the WHO Boss said one of the most important lessons from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that innovative health interventions can be delivered fast if they are prioritized politically and financed adequately.
“The challenges presented by TB and COVID-19 are different, but the ingredients that accelerate science, research and innovation are the same: 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,” he said.
According to UN, TB which is also known as consumption is caused by bacteria that mostly affect the lungs. It is spread through the air when someone who has TB coughs, sneezes or spits.
The disease is the second leading infectious killer after COVID-19 and the 13th leading cause of death worldwide. In 2021, TB affected approximately 10.6 million people and killed 1.6 million.
A vaccine developed over a century ago, Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) is currently the only licensed TB vaccine. It provides moderate efficacy in preventing severe forms of TB in infants and young children, but it does not adequately protect adolescents and adults, who account for close to 90% of TB transmissions globally.
Drug-resistance continues to be a major problem with close to half a million people developing drug-resistant TB every year, WHO says. And despite nations’ commitments to end TB by 2030, in the Sustainable Development Goals, the epidemic shows no sign of slowing down.
UN report that recent WHO commissioned study, an investment case for new tuberculosis (TB) vaccines estimates that, over 25 years, a vaccine that is 50% effective in preventing disease among adolescents and adults 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, the study suggest, furthering that every US$ 1 invested in a 50% effective vaccine could generate an economic return of US$ 7 in terms of averted health costs and increased productivity.