The Absurd Reason a UTI Vaccine Doesn't Exist

April 29th 2016

Tricia Tongco

If you’re female, you’re probably familiar with the burning, uncomfortable hell on earth that is a urinary tract infection, or bladder infection.

Usually caused by bacteria traveling to the bladder, UTIs can be prevented by wiping front to back and peeing after sex, but women’s anatomy (read: short urethras and the close proximity of those to the E. Coli-ridden anus) can have the most cautious woman running to the bathroom several times a day.

More than 50 percent of women will have at least one UTI during their lifetime, and 30 to 40 percent of those infections will recur within six months. Since UTIs are such a huge pain in the bladder for women everywhere, why hasn’t a UTI vaccine been developed?

Most UTIs are treated with antibiotics, which are over-prescribed in the U.S. and increasingly not as effective in treating recurrent infections. Antibiotics are better than a one-time vaccine from a big pharma perspective, because they get people to spend more money over time, as Broadly suggested.

Yep, one of the major reasons we don’t have a vaccine yet is because antibiotics are a major money-maker. But not everyone in the field of urology agrees with this reasoning.

Urologist Dr. Una Lee told ATTN: that she doesn’t think that explanation is especially relevant in this case. “A short course of antibiotics for a treatment of UTIs is a standard treatment for a UTI," she explained. "I don’t’ know the economics of it for pharmaceutical companies. It’s a big health burden everyone wants to solve.”


As with developing any medication, the process is a long one, and UTIs don’t spur the same kind of urgency as other infections and illnesses. “Good science takes time, and it’s not a life-threatening illness — a vaccine to cure Zika virus and Ebola is an international health care priority because these are serious illnesses,” she said.

In medicine, she explained, it’s common and valid to debate between whether or not to treat an ailment before or after it happens. “A UTI has a process, and these are generally two different approaches along that pathway,” said Dr. Lee. “You don’t want something to be rushed and unsafe. It takes time to go from [gaining] scientific knowledge to being ready for consumer availability.”

But there’s hope, ladies. A study published in Nature last month examined E. coli, the bug that causes 80 percent of UTIs, and found a potential new treatment method that wouldn’t require using antibiotics.

As Motherboard pointed out, the research shows that the trouble with UTIs is that the force of peeing only causes the E. coli to grip more tightly and ride it out. But the study suggests that targeting medicine toward the protein, chains of FimH, that are behind E. coli’s vice grip could make it possible for the body to naturally flush out the bacteria without requiring antibiotics to kill the E. coli.

Women aren’t necessarily asking for a vaccine, since they might not be aware that there’s one in development, according to Dr. Lee. “But there are a lot of women that ask, ‘What can be done?’ ‘How can I break the cycle of infections of I’m getting?’" she stated. "Plus there is an increasing interest to consider other natural, non-antibiotic options.”

While there’s no way to definitively say when a UTI vaccine will be available, women can take heart in the fact that an end to those cringeworthy days rushing to the ladies’ room is coming.

[H/T Broadly and Motherboard]