Why the evolution of vaccine resistance is less of a concern than the evolution of drug resistance

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Vaccines and antimicrobial drugs both impose strong selection for resistance. Yet only drug resistance is a major challenge for 21st century medicine. Why is drug resistance ubiquitous and not vaccine resistance? Part of the answer is that vaccine resistance is far less likely to evolve than drug resistance. But what happens when vaccine resistance does evolve? We review six putative cases. We find that in contrast to drug resistance, vaccine resistance is harder to detect and harder to confirm and that the mechanistic basis is less well understood. Nevertheless, in the cases we examined, the pronounced health benefits associated with vaccination have largely been sustained. Thus, we contend that vaccine resistance is less of a concern than drug resistance because it is less likely to evolve and when it does, it is less harmful to human and animal health and well-being. Studies of pathogen strains that evolve the capacity to replicate and transmit from vaccinated hosts will enhance our ability to develop next-generation vaccines that minimize the risk of harmful pathogen evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12878-12886
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 18 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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