Five years after the introduction of an affordable conjugate meningitis A vaccine, immunisation has led to the control and near elimination of the deadly disease in the African ‘meningitis belt’.
The findings are part of a special collection of 29 articles in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, with guest editors from Public Health England and the former Meningitis Vaccine Project, a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international health non-profit PATH, about the steps taken for the development, introduction, and evaluation of the PsA-TT conjugate meningitis A vaccine for Africa, better known as MenAfriVac®.
But scientists are now warning that unless countries within the belt incorporate the meningitis A vaccine in routine immunisation schedules for infants, there is a risk that the disease could rebound in 15 years’ time.
‘We have nearly eliminated meningitis A epidemics from Africa, but the fact is the job is not yet done,’ said Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, Director of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO.
The vaccine was developed in response to a plea for help from ministers of health in sub-Saharan Africa after an outbreak of meningitis A in 1996 that infected over 250,000 people and killed over 25,000 in just a few months. The vaccine costs less than US$0.50 a dose.
When scientists followed up with 900 people aged 2 through to 29 years from Senegal, Mali, and The Gambia who were vaccinated with MenAfriVac®, they found that 90% of individuals still had protective antibodies in their system five years later. Study authors said this is a good predictor of even longer-term protection that they will continue to track.
‘We need to ensure that we finish the job with meningitis A and apply the lessons learned to the next generation of meningitis vaccines for Africa,’ said Dr. Marc LaForce, who formerly led development of the meningitis A vaccine for PATH and is now with Serum Institute of India.