Group B Streptococcus Major Source of Preterm Births, Disability, Infant Mortality

Multiple GBS vaccine candidates are in development, but none are available despite development efforts spanning multiple decades.

Group B streptococcus (GBS) has a considerably higher global impact than previously recognized, resulting in approximately 150,000 deaths of babies each year, more than half a million preterm births, and significant long-term disability, according to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). The investigators call for urgent development of maternal vaccines against GBS to reduce its impact.

“Group B strep infection poses a serious challenge to every family affected, and in every country,” said Joy Lawn, FRCPCH, FMedSci, director of the Maternal Adolescent Reproductive & Child Health Centre at LSHTM, in a press release. “Maternal vaccination could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of babies in the years to come, yet 30 years since this was first proposed, the world has not delivered a vaccine. Now is the time to act to protect the world’s most vulnerable citizens with a GBS vaccine.”

The investigators note that multiple GBS vaccine candidates are in development, but none are yet available, despite development efforts spanning multiple decades. The primary method of preventing GBS disease in newborns is currently antibiotic prophylaxis administered to a woman during labor if the bacterium is detected during pregnancy. However, this intervention is unlikely to prevent most GBS-associated stillbirths, preterm births, or GBS disease that occurs later after birth, according to the investigators.

“This new research shows that Group B strep is a major and underappreciated threat to newborn survival and wellbeing, bringing devastating impacts for so many families globally,” said Philipp Lambach, PhD, MBA, medical officer from WHO’s Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals department, in the release. “WHO joins partners in calling for urgent development of a maternal GBS vaccine, which would have profound benefits in countries worldwide.”

An average of 15% of all pregnant women globally carry the GBS bacterium, typically without symptoms. According to the report, estimates suggest that if a GBS vaccine reached more than 70% of pregnant women, more than 50,000 GBS-related deaths could be averted annually—as well as over 170,000 preterm births.

“A new maternal vaccine against GBS would be a game-changer in the reduction of newborn and maternal deaths for the most affected countries—especially sub-Saharan Africa where the burden of these deaths is alarming,” said Martina Lukong Baye, MD, MPH, in the release. “We plead to all stakeholders to treat this as a matter of moral priority.”

REFERENCE

Urgent need for vaccine to prevent deadly Group B streptococcus [news release]. EurekAlert; November 2, 2021. Accessed December 2, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/933337