Antibiotic Resistance: Big Pharma’s Hand in the Disaster

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the many failures of the neoliberal model

The global antibiotic crisis has increased the COVID-19 death toll. From the Second World War onwards, drug companies overproduced antibiotics and health professionals overprescribed. Bacteria grew resistant to the drugs. One major solution is for Big Pharma to conduct R&D into new antibiotics to keep one step ahead of bacterial mutations. But that’s not profitable. With few governments willing to intervene, the crisis will worsen.


COVID-19 is a virus, not bacteria. The World Health Organization, therefore, advises that antibiotics should not be used to prevent or treat the virus. But like the Flu Pandemic (1918-20), many COVID-19 victims do not die of the virus, but from bacteria-related secondary complications. It is important to note that the crisis of antibiotic resistance contributes to the deaths of many COVID-19 victims. In Italy, for instance, 8.5 percent of deaths from COVID-19 complications including bacterial superinfections, with many of the bacteria strains resistant to antibiotics. In March 2020, the World Health Organization said: “Dual infections with other respiratory viral and bacterial infections have been found in SARS, MERS and COVID-19 patients.” The American College of Cardiology states: “It is important for patients with CVD to remain current with vaccinations, including the pneumococcal vaccine given the increased risk of secondary bacterial infection with COVID-19.”

Worldwide, antibiotic-resistance to respiratory pathogens, including S. pneumoniae and M. tuberculosis has reached epidemic levels. Global antibiotic usage is expected to increase from 63,000 tons in 2010 to 105,000 tons by 2030: with nearly 100 percent increases in Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa. The most frequently-used antibiotics are amoxicillin and clavulanic acid. These are regarded by the World Health Organization as first or second-line drugs. Others, including carbapenems, cephalosporins, and quinolones are recommended with caution due to their high levels of resistance. The second category accounts for around a fifth of all antibiotics used globally.

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T. J. Coles is director of the Plymouth Institute for Peace Research and the author of several books, including Voices for Peace (with Noam Chomsky and others) and  Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia (both Clairview Books).

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