Dear colleagues, partners and friends,
A century has passed since the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine was introduced to combat tuberculosis (TB) on 18 July, 1921.
The BCG vaccine is currently the only licensed vaccine for TB and provides moderate protection against severe forms of TB in infants and young children.
It has been made widely available across countries through immunization programmes and has played a vital role in saving many young lives and preventing serious illnesses.
However, there is no vaccine that is effective in preventing TB disease in adults, either before or after exposure to TB infection.
While results from a Phase II trial of the M72/AS01E TB vaccine candidate are promising – from among 14 vaccine candidates in clinical trials, these vaccines are expected to be ready only in the coming years.
Comparing this to the rapid advances made in the development and roll-out of safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19, we can see that political commitment backed by massive investments in research can lead to faster access to life-saving vaccines.
Unprecedented public and private financing has supported COVID-19 vaccine research, development and manufacturing scale-up.
This clearly shows, that we don’t need to wait for over 100 years to access new TB vaccines, but like with COVID-19, increased investments can be a game-changer and alleviate the suffering and deaths caused to millions due to TB – that remains one of the world’s top infectious killers.
WHO is joining partners, civil society and affected people & communities around the world in calling for increased and sustained investments in TB vaccine development.
A new vaccine that is effective across all age groups, particularly adults and adolescents will be critical if we are to reach End TB targets.
Vaccines also offer the best chance to contain the spread of multi-drug resistant TB.
We need to build on lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, and replicate the successes achieved especially in vaccine development and prepare to address the challenges faced in ensuring vaccine equity.
As stressed by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on COVID-19 vaccine roll out, “Vaccine equity is the challenge of our time”.
The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, created by WHO and its partners, along with the COVAX Facility, can enable equitable distribution of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics globally, as well as demand that leaders and vaccine manufacturers ramp up production and equitable distribution.
WHO’s call for vaccine equity is important as we work in parallel on research and development for new TB vaccines.
As we mark the 100 year anniversary of the BCG vaccine, we need to come together to ensure that the world does not have to wait for so long to access vaccines that can save millions of lives. The clock is ticking – the time to invest in TB vaccines is now!
Dr Tereza Kasaeva
Director, WHO Global TB Programme
A look-back at historical pictures of BCG vaccine roll-out over the past 100 years
SOURCE: WHO Website