WHO Calls for Development of Maternal Vaccine Against GBS

In a report, the World Health Organization and a partner ask developers, funders, and investigators to accelerate developing a vaccination.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine released a new report calling for the development of maternal vaccines against Group B streptococcus (GBS), a common bacterium transmitted in the womb, during birth or the early weeks of life.

“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. WHO joins partners in calling for urgent development of a maternal GBS vaccine, which would have profound benefits in countries worldwide,” Phillipp Lambach, medical officer from the immunization, vaccines, and biologicals department at WHO, said in a statement.

There are several GBS vaccine candidates in development, but none are available yet.

The report calls for funders, investigators, and vaccine developers to accelerate the development of a GBS vaccine to be administered to pregnant women during routine pregnancy check-ups.

Antibiotic prophylaxis is administered to a woman during labor and is the main means of preventing GSB disease in newborn infants. However, significant health risks remain, because it is unlikely to prevent GBS-associated stillbirths, GBS disease, or preterm births that occur after birth.

GBS has been linked to more than half a million preterm births annually, as well as nearly 100,000 newborn deaths, at least 46,000 stillbirths, and significant long-term disability.

On average, 15% of all pregnant women worldwide carry the GBS bacterium, usually without symptoms.

The largest burden of GBS is in low- and middle-income countries where screening and are most challenging to implement. The highest rates of maternal

GBS occur in sub-Saharan Africa, which has about half the global burden, and also Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.

“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. We plead to all stakeholders to treat this as a matter of moral priority,” Martina Lukong Baye, MD, MPH, coordinator of the national multisector programme to combat maternal, newborn, and child mortality at the Ministry of Public Health in Cameroon, said in the statement.

The report estimates that a GBS vaccination could reach more than 70% of pregnant women, resulting in more 50,000 GBS-related deaths being averted annually, as well as 170,000 preterm births.

Reference

Urgent need for vaccine to prevent deadly Group B streptococcus. EurekAlert. News release. November 2, 2021. Accessed November 3, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/933337