The World Health Organization (WHO) has opened the door to routine immunization of infants in sub-Saharan Africa by approving for use an innovative and affordable vaccine that has all but rid the meningitis belt of a major cause of deadly epidemics.
In the four years since its introduction in Africa, MenAfriVac® has had an immediate and dramatic impact in breaking the cycle of meningitis A epidemics, leading the safe, effective technology to be approved by WHO through its prequalification process for use in infants, and paving the way for protecting millions more children at risk of the deadly disease. The announcement was made today by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP)–a partnership between the global health nonprofit PATH and WHO–and Serum Institute of India Ltd (SIIL), which manufactures the MenAfriVac® vaccine.
“Initial mass vaccination campaigns with MenAfriVac® have been highly effective in reducing the number of meningitis A cases,” said Dr. Marie-Pierre Préziosi, director of MVP. “But epidemics will return when rising numbers of unprotected newborns become a larger proportion of the total population over time. Now, with this decision, health officials will be able to ensure that population-wide protection is sustained by routinely immunizing infants.”
The WHO decision means that the new, 5 µg dose of the meningitis A vaccine meets international standards of quality, safety, and efficacy and can therefore be administered to children younger than one year of age in Africa. MenAfriVac® had previously been authorized for use in children and young adults, aged 1-29 years.
Before the introduction of MenAfriVac®, people living in countries of the meningitis belt, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, were regularly struck by meningitis A epidemics in which sudden onset of symptoms could rapidly lead to death or permanent disability. One of the most devastating outbreaks ever recorded was in 1996-1997, when an epidemic wave infected more than 250,000 people and killed over 25,000 in just a few months. The only existing vaccine was insufficient to break the cycle.
Protection at an affordable price
In 2004, MVP partnered with SIIL to develop an affordable, tailor-made vaccine for use against meningitis A in sub-Saharan Africa. MenAfriVac® was developed in record time at less than 1 tenth the cost of a typical new vaccine. Since campaigns started in 2010, MenAfriVac® has been administered to over 215 million people in 15 countries of the African meningitis belt: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Togo, and The Gambia.
“Developing the MenAfriVac® vaccine fit exactly Serum’s ingrained philosophy of bringing down prices of vaccines so that under-privileged children of the world are protected,” said Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla, CEO of SIIL, headquartered in Pune, India. “We at Serum Institute are extremely proud of being part of an international partnership that brought an end to a public health issue that has been plaguing sub-Saharan Africa for more than a century.”
The Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP): Established in 2001, the Meningitis Vaccine Project is a partnership between PATH and the World Health Organization. Its mission is to eliminate epidemic meningitis as a public health problem in sub-Saharan Africa through the development, testing, introduction, and widespread use of conjugate meningococcal vaccines.