SWITZERLAND — The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced plans to set up a new TB Vaccine Accelerator Council to increase momentum for the development of a vaccine to combat the world’s most deadly infectious disease.
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.
Speaking at a high-level panel at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting where the plan was launched, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for the involvement of all countries to make it a reality.
Despite countries making bold commitments to end TB by 2030, in 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.
“We have 16 TB vaccine candidates under development, many of which from before COVID. The difference between COVID and the 16 candidates is the whole world focused on really finding a solution for COVID and so accelerated the development of the COVID vaccines, while TB [vaccine research] started decades ago,” Tedros said, adding that research into the latter is still “lagging behind.”
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.
The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, developed in 1921, is the only licensed TB vaccine at present.
While it provides moderate efficacy in preventing severe forms of TB in infants and young children, it does not adequately protect adolescents and adults, who account for close to 90% of TB transmissions globally.
WHO recently commissioned a study on investing in new TB vaccines, which estimates that over 25 years, a vaccine that is 50 percent effective in preventing disease among young people and adults could avert up to 76 million TB cases.
Furthermore, every dollar invested in a 50 percent effective vaccine could generate an economic return of US$7 in terms of averted health costs and increased productivity.
Additionally, some 8.5 million lives could be saved, as well as US$6.5 billion in costs faced by TB-affected households, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable.
Meanwhile, a vaccine with 75 percent efficacy could avert up to 110 million new TB cases and 12.3 million deaths.
Countries will meet later this year for a United Nations high-level meeting to review progress on commitments made in a 2018 political declaration on the fight against TB.
WHO described the event as an important opportunity to correct setbacks in response to the virus, which includes the urgent development and delivery of new TB vaccines.
“There is no argument that vaccines present an important solution to wage a comprehensive fight against TB,” said Dr. Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme.
“The Council creates a renewed energy in the search for effective TB vaccines by leveraging WHO’s convening power and experience in fostering partnerships.”