By Gift Briton

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

Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General announced during a high-level panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The new Council intends to bring together funders, global agencies, governments and those with TB to identify and overcome barriers to vaccine development.

In his opening remarks at the panel meeting, Dr. Ghebreyesus noted that one of the most important lessons from the COVID-19 response is that innovative health interventions can be delivered fast if they are prioritized 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,” the head of WHO said, adding that, “We believe the TB field will benefit from similar high-level coordination.”

TB, also known as consumption, is the second leading infectious killer after COVID-19 and the 13th leading cause of death worldwide. It is caused by bacteria that mostly affect the lungs and spreads through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or spits. It is both curable and preventable, yet, despite global commitments to end TB by 2030, the epidemic shows no sign of slowing down, says WHO.

According to the organization, in 2021, roughly 10.6 million fell sick with the disease, and 1.6 million died from it. Furthermore, drug resistance continues to be a major problem, with close to half a million people developing drug-resistant TB every year.

Dr. Ghebreyesus noted that despite its impact on human health, no new TB vaccines have been licensed in a century. Currently, the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, developed in 1921, is the only licensed TB vaccine. However, while BCG provides moderate efficacy in preventing severe forms of the disease in infants and young children, it does not adequately protect adolescents and adults, who account for nearly 90 percent of TB transmissions globally.

WHO recently commissioned a study on investing in new TB vaccines, which estimates that for 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 $7 in terms of averted health costs and increased productivity. Additionally, some 8.5 million lives could be saved, as well as $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 UN High-Level Meeting to review progress on commitments made in a 2018 political declaration on the fight against TB, with WHO describing the event as an important opportunity to correct setbacks in the response to the virus, which includes the urgent development and delivery of new TB vaccines.