Nature News Examines Meningitis Vaccine Program To Roll Out In Africa

Nature News reports on an immunization campaign kicking off in Africa in December that will offer protection to some areas of Africa’s meningitis belt. “Millions will receive a new vaccine, MenAfriVac, that promises protection against the meningococcal bacterium Neisseria meningitides,” the news service writes, noting the effort is “the culmination of ten years’ work by an international consortium to develop a vaccine at a price low enough for massive use in Africa: just US$0.40 a dose.”

The article details the history of the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), which was created in 2001 and leaders include the WHO and PATH, as described by MVP Director Marc LaForce. In order to find a low-cost meningitis vaccine at the target price they were looking for, “the consortium did the research itself, and contracted the Serum Institute of India in Pune to make the vaccine. The entire research and development cost of the project was just $70 million – five to ten times less than typical vaccines,” Nature News writes. “LaForce hopes that the MenAfriVac model can be applied successfully to other vaccines,” the news service adds.

According to Nature News, “[d]uring next month’s campaign, backed by the WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the government of Burkina Faso will vaccinate everyone aged 1–29 – the group hit hardest by the disease, numbering 12.5 million people. Mali and Niger will each vaccinate 4 million people in the same age bracket.”

The article examines the social and economic toll Meningitis A epidemics have had in Africa, compares MenAfriVac to vaccine previously used to vaccinate against meningitis A and describes the role of the CDC and Norwegian Institute of Public Health, both tasked with monitoring the effectiveness of MenAfriVac.

The article adds, “[s]ome $475 million is needed to expand coverage to other countries in the meningitis belt, says Marie-Pierre Preziosi, an official at the WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals in Geneva,” who describes the challenges of raising the funds to commit to the project. Andrew Pollard, a meningitis researcher at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, and Andrew Riordan, a meningitis expert at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, are also quoted in the article (Butler, 11/9).

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