Targeting imperfect vaccines against drug-resistance determinants: a strategy for countering the rise of drug resistance.


The growing prevalence of antimicrobial resistance in major pathogens is outpacing discovery of new antimicrobial classes. Vaccines mitigate the effect of antimicrobial resistance by reducing the need for treatment, but vaccines for many drug-resistant pathogens remain undiscovered or have limited efficacy, in part because some vaccines selectively favor pathogen strains that escape vaccine-induced immunity. A strain with even a modest advantage in vaccinated hosts can have high fitness in a population with high vaccine coverage, which can offset a strong selection pressure such as antimicrobial use that occurs in a small fraction of hosts. We propose a strategy to target vaccines against drug-resistant pathogens, by using resistance-conferring proteins as antigens in multicomponent vaccines. Resistance determinants may be weakly immunogenic, offering only modest specific protection against resistant strains. Therefore, we assess here how varying the specific efficacy of the vaccine against resistant strains would affect the proportion of drug-resistant vs. -sensitive strains population-wide for three pathogens--Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, and influenza virus--in which drug resistance is a problem. Notably, if such vaccines confer even slightly higher protection (additional efficacy between 1% and 8%) against resistant variants than sensitive ones, they may be an effective tool in controlling the rise of resistant strains, given current levels of use for many antimicrobial agents. We show that the population-wide impact of such vaccines depends on the additional effect on resistant strains and on the overall effect (against all strains). Resistance-conferring accessory gene products or resistant alleles of essential genes could be valuable as components of vaccines even if their specific protective effect is weak.

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