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Optimism over despair: Why we need to maintain our momentum through COVID-19 to change the course of antibiotic resistance

Susan Rienow
Hospital Business UK Lead, Pfizer UK

4th March 2021

For many of us, COVID-19 has been the single biggest crisis we've ever lived through. As the pandemic continues to impact on families and businesses around the world, we have a duty to maintain the momentum of a global, collaborative response to save lives before it’s too late.


It remains that while the impact of the pandemic has been widely reported on, few people are focused on how COVID-19 is accelerating the threat of antibiotic resistance. A recent review of data from over 30,000 COVID-19 cases globally, found that 74% of patients received antibiotics despite only 8% having bacterial coinfections.1 The study suggests that a large number of antibiotics are being prescribed unnecessarily, increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance – particularly in areas where it’s already a significant problem. Similar concerns have been raised in the US where researchers have tracked the rise of a resistant superbug (Candida auris) in hospitals hit hard by COVID-19.2 This is deeply concerning for all those involved in antimicrobial stewardship efforts to minimise the risk of resistance.

Yet we’ve seen what can be accomplished when industry, government, our healthcare system and academia come together to control infections and protect lives. Whole organisations are putting competitive differences aside to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, moving together with unprecedented speed to find solutions, and we should be doing the same for antibiotic resistance.

Many key interventions in the control of COVID-19 are also critical in the fight against antibiotic resistance; for example, pushing for patients to be routinely screened for infection, keeping vaccinations up to date and conducting tests to determine which class of treatments should be administered to alleviate the infection. These actions can help ensure people get the right medicines at the right time, as well as helping to manage future outbreaks through better tracking of infections.


A poll conducted by Pfizer UK showed that public knowledge about antibiotic resistance is increasing – at 70% in 2020, compared to only 54% in 2019.”

It is also fair to say that we all now understand our individual responsibility to prevent infections and protect those around us. For several months now, we’ve committed to taking extra precautions like washing our hands at every given opportunity and wearing masks in public places. These actions have a real impact on preventing infections, and maintaining momentum is crucial to ensure we continue acting in ways that prevent bacterial infections and overuse of antibiotics in our lifetime.

A poll conducted by Pfizer UK showed that public knowledge about antibiotic resistance is increasing – at 70% in 2020, compared to only 54% in 2019.3 While this is moving in the right direction, almost half of people (45%) in the UK don’t know what action they can take to address the issue.

This is why we created Change the Course – a new initiative developed to equip the public with actions they can take to reduce the threat of antibiotic resistance. In a new report authored by an independent group of experts, readers can access the latest information about antibiotic resistance and how to act in ways that can make a difference. These include:


Spreading the word




  • Considering how yourself and others may have already been affected by antibiotic resistance.
  • Joining others in the global movement who are already talking about the issue.
  • Sharing the report and talking positively about the action you’re taking.

Calling for action




  • Making your voice heard by sharing your stories, concerns or ideas with your Member of Parliament, local councillors or community leaders.
  • Finding out how antibiotics are used in food production and calling for action by starting online conversations and petitions.

Joining the learning revolution




  • Taking advantage of educational resources, designed to help anyone, at any age, to understand the real-world issue of antibiotic resistance.
  • Getting involved in citizen science to help support current research that could identify new antibiotics.

Supporting the good work




  • Getting behind some of the leading charities and non-profits tackling antibiotic resistance to support with education, fundraising and donations.


Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced how our own health and wellbeing can be dependent on the health and behaviour of those around us. The same is true for antibiotic resistance. While many of us can take the actions set out in the Change the Course report, it is with the hope that industry, government, our healthcare system and academia work with the same urgency that we applied to the COVID-19 crisis, to do all we can to prevent the next pandemic.

Only if we work together, can we change the course of antibiotic resistance.



  1. Langford BJ, So M, Raybardhan S, et al Antibiotic prescribing in patients with COVID-19: rapid review and meta-analysis. January 2021
  2. ‘Cousins, S., 2020. 'Drug-resistant superbug thriving in hospitals hit hard by COVID-19.’ National Geographic. January 2021.
  3. Data on file. Pfizer UK survey.
  4. Data on file. Pfizer UK survey.
PP-PFE-GBR-3203 / Feb 2021