Vaccines offer real promise as tools to slow the development of resistance. Antibiotics fight infections that have become severe enough to make a person sick. But vaccines work before a person is even infected, preventing illness altogether. As a result, vaccines can reduce the demand for antibiotics in three ways:
1. By avoiding bacterial infections like pneumonia that antibiotics could treat;
2. By avoiding viral infections like influenza that cannot be treated with antibiotics but sometimes prompt inappropriate antibiotic prescriptions; and
3. By avoiding “co-infections” – where a person weakened by a viral infection then acquires a bacterial infection.
Researchers are working now on vaccines for new threats, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), but some of these may be decades in the making. Encouraging vaccinations for common viral and bacterial infections could make a real and near-term difference in the fight against antibiotic resistance. Incentives could accelerate both vaccine research and the dissemination of existing vaccines. Read more about the vaccines piece of the antibiotic effectiveness puzzle.