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Vaccinating Against Superbugs

The ability to control infectious disease is the bedrock of modern medicine, and vaccines are important tools for keeping such diseases at bay. But vaccines can also limit the spread of drug-resistant strains by reducing antibiotic use.

GENEVA – Whether you live below the poverty line in the slums of Karachi or work as a banker on Wall Street, drug-resistant “superbugs” are among the gravest threats to your health. But while the problem is ubiquitous, we are not entirely defenseless. On the contrary, in the race to prevent antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the world has a potent if underused tool: vaccines.

One epidemic currently plaguing Pakistan illustrates vaccines’ potential. For two years, health professionals have been trying to contain an outbreak of extensively drug-resistant (XDR) typhoid. Cases linked to Pakistan have even been reported among travelers returning to the United States and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, diagnosing XDR typhoid is difficult, and doctors often prescribe antibiotics that are ineffective. This, in turn, prolongs the length and severity of the illness, and can lead to death.

But what if doctors in Pakistan could prevent typhoid in the first place? We believe they can. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is helping to distribute a new vaccine, and if the immunization drive is successful, it will eventually lead to a reduction in unnecessary antibiotic use, which is the main factor fueling the rise and spread of deadly superbugs everywhere.

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