At a World Economic Forum panel on tuberculosis (TB) in January 2023, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced intentions to establish a TB Vaccine Accelerator Council. This Council will “facilitate the licensing and use of effective novel TB vaccines” by “catalysing high-level alignment” between key parties.
With the myriad disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is no surprise that the TB epidemic is an area of concern. Despite the ambitions established in the Sustainable Development Goals, with the hope of ending TB by 2030, WHO suggests that “the epidemic shows no sign of slowing down”.
“In 2021, approximately 10.6 million people fell sick with TB, and 1.6 million died.”
Furthermore, drug resistance “continues to be a major problem” with around “half a million people developing drug-resistant TB every year”.
Although the pandemic may have set us back, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus believes that it has delivered “important lessons” as well. An example of this is that in our response to COVID-19 “innovative health interventions” were delivered fast when “prioritised 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.”
He hopes that the TB field will “benefit from similar high-level coordination”.
BCG is a licensed TB vaccine that provides “moderate efficacy in preventing severe forms of TB in infants and young children” but does not “adequately protect” older patients. Adolescents and adults comprise almost 90% of TB transmissions.
A WHO study suggested that, over 25 years, a vaccine that is 50% effective in preventing the disease in adolescents and adults could “avert up to 76 million new TB cases, 8.5 million deaths, 42 million courses of antibiotic treatment, and $6.5 billion in costs” for TB affected households.
A 75% effective vaccine could avert “up to 110 million new TB cases and 12.3 million deaths”. Furthermore, the study indicated that every $1 invested in a 50% effective vaccine could generate an economic return of $7 due to reduced health costs and increased productivity.
We will be exploring TB in more detail at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington in April, so do join us for more vaccine content.