WHO to establish new council to develop Tuberculosis vaccine

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has disclosed plans to establish a Vaccine Accelerator Council to speed up the licensing and use of effective novel vaccines against Tuberculosis (TB).

According to WHO, TB is the 13th leading cause of death and the second leading infectious killer after COVID-19 (above HIV/AIDS).

The creation of the TB council was announced Wednesday by the WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus at a high-level panel at the World Economic Forum, according to a news release published on the official WHO website.

The new council is intended to bring together funders, global agencies, governments and end users in identifying and overcoming barriers to TB vaccine development, the global health agency said.

Impact of COVID-19

During his opening remarks, Mr Ghebreyesus noted that 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 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 was quoted to have said, “We believe the TB field will benefit from similar high-level coordination,” the director general said.

While the disease is curable and preventable, WHO noted that despite global commitments to end TB by 2030 and the 2018 political declaration on the fight against TB, the epidemic shows no sign of slowing down.

“In 2021, roughly 10.6 million fell sick with the disease, and 1.6 million died from it. Drug resistance continues to be a major problem, with close to half a million people developing drug-resistant TB every year,” it added.

Sole vaccine

The global body further said that the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, developed in 1921, is the only licensed TB vaccine.

It noted that while the BCG 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 nearly 90 per cent of TB transmissions globally.

It also cited a WHO recently commissioned study on investing in new TB vaccines, which estimates that over 25 years, a vaccine that is 50 per cent effective in preventing disease among young people and adults could avert up to 76 million TB cases.

Meanwhile, a vaccine with 75 per cent efficacy could avert up to 110 million new TB cases and 12.3 million deaths. The study further suggests that every US$1 invested in a 50 per cent effective vaccine could generate an economic return of US$ 7 in terms of averted health costs and increased productivity.

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WHO noted that countries will meet later this year for a UN High-Level Meeting to review progress on commitments made in a 2018 political declaration on the fight against TB, describing the event as an important opportunity to correct setbacks in the response to the virus.

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