They do this by killing or limiting the growth of bacteria and viruses.
We have relied on antimicrobials for decades. But today their power to cure us is under threat.
Some bacteria have developed resistance to antimicrobials, making it harder to treat the infections they cause. This is known as antimicrobial resistance – or AMR.
In Europe, these so-called ‘superbugs’ kill 25,000 thousand people every year and put enormous pressure on our health systems.
Experts are working hard to find solutions to this urgent public health challenge.
Vaccines can help in a number of ways.
For a start, vaccines prevent infections and reduce the need for hospitalisation. Overuse of antimicrobials increases the risk of AMR. Vaccines can reduce the need for using antimicrobials by reducing the rate of infectious disease.
For example, the use of pneumococcal vaccines has reduced the number of AMR-related pneumococcal diseases, and the HiB vaccine has virtually eliminated AMR infection caused by H. influenzae type b.
Even vaccines which prevent viral infections, like the flu, can indirectly reduce the use of antimicrobials. This is because antibiotics are sometimes needed to treat bacterial complications of viral illnesses.
And vaccines could help fight superbugs in another way: researchers are working on new vaccines that would make us immune to superbug infection. MRSA, Tuberculosis and gonorrhoea are just some of the bacteria targeted by scientists.
In the meantime, making the best use of the vaccines we have today can help ensure our existing antimicrobials remain effective in the future.