Joseph A. Lewnard, Louis F. Fries, Iksung Cho, Janice Chen, Ramanan Laxminarayan

Strategies to reduce consumption of antimicrobial drugs are needed to contain the growing burden of antimicrobial resistance. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a prominent cause of upper and lower respiratory tract infections, as a single agent and in conjunction with bacterial pathogens, and may thus contribute to the burden of both inappropriately treated viral infections and appropriately treated polymicrobial infections involving bacteria. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, administering an RSV vaccine to pregnant mothers reduced antimicrobial prescribing among their infants by 12.9% over the first 3 months of life. Our findings implicate RSV as an important contributor to antimicrobial exposure among infants and demonstrate that this exposure is preventable by use of effective maternal vaccines against RSV.

Reductions in antimicrobial consumption are needed to mitigate the burden of antimicrobial resistance. Vaccines may have an important role to play in reducing antimicrobial consumption by preventing infections for which treatment is often prescribed, whether appropriately or inappropriately. However, limited understanding of the volume of antimicrobial treatment attributable to specific pathogens—and to viruses, in particular—presently hinders efforts to prioritize vaccines with the greatest potential to reduce antimicrobial consumption. In a double-blind trial undertaken across 11 countries, infants born to mothers who were randomized to receive an experimental vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) experienced 12.9% (95% CI: 1.3 to 23.1%) lower incidence of antimicrobial prescribing over the first 3 mo of life than infants whose mothers were randomized to receive placebo. Vaccine efficacy against antimicrobial prescriptions associated with acute lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) was 16.9% (95% CI: 1.4 to 29.4%). Over the first 3 mo of life, maternal vaccination prevented 3.6 antimicrobial prescription courses for every 100 infants born in high-income countries and 5.1 courses per 100 infants in low- and middle-income countries, representing 20.2 and 10.9% of all antimicrobial prescribing in these settings, respectively. While LRTI episodes accounted for 69 to 73% of all antimicrobial prescribing prevented by maternal vaccination, striking vaccine efficacy (71.3% [95% CI: 28.1 to 88.6%]) was also observed against acute otitis media–associated antimicrobial prescription among infants in high-income countries. Our findings implicate RSV as a cause of substantial volumes of antimicrobial prescribing among young infants and demonstrate the potential for prevention of such prescribing through use of maternal vaccines against RSV.

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