Well-Being Medical Advances

New TB vaccine would be game changer in public health

It’s possible public health workers have not been this excited since Jonas Salk created the Polio vaccine in 1955. The World Health Organization is calling a possible new tuberculosis (TB) vaccine an unprecedented breakthrough and is urging for it quickly to be brought to market. Maker GlaxoSmithKline has already successfully tested the new vaccine, known as M72/AS01E on more than 3,000 adults throughout Africa.

TB is caused by a bacterium that usually attacks the lungs and, in its most virulent form, is deadly. Bacterial infections can usually be treated with antibiotics, but TB has developed an immunity to most drugs, making it difficult to eradicate. An older released vaccine has not been particularly effective.

TB is not prevalent in the United States; there are less than 200,000 cases a year, and it’s usually caught early enough to prevent fatalities. But TB is a terror in crowded, poor regions of the world that lack proper sanitation and medical infrastructure. The bacteria can be spread through contaminated water and through the air on droplets coughed up by those already infected. It is estimated 28 million people worldwide will die from the infection before 2030. 

Tests of the proposed GSK vaccine suggest it’s effective in half of the people who receive it. That may seem like a low percentage, but if it could save half of 28 million lives then it would be understandable for public health officials to celebrate.

Some video imagery courtesy of TB Alliance, World Heath Organization and Nasjonalmuseet, Billedkunstsamlingene.

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