Vaccine shortage leaves Africa vulnerable to meningitis outbreak

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An acute shortage of meningitis C-containing vaccine threatens to severely limit the world’s ability to minimise the number of people affected by the meningitis outbreak, four international public health organisations have recently warned.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Health Organization (WHO) (the 4 organizations, which together constitute the International Coordinating Group for Vaccine Provision for Epidemic Meningitis Control – ICG) are therefore calling on vaccine manufacturers to step-up meningitis C-containing vaccine production by 5 million doses before the 2016 meningitis season starts in January.

‘Meningitis tends to hit Africa in cycles. Cases of meningitis C have been rising since 2013, first in Nigeria in 2013 and 2014, and then in Niger in 2015. We have to be ready for a much larger number of cases during the 2016 meningitis season,’ said Dr. William Perea, Coordinator for Control of Epidemic Diseases Unit at WHO.

‘We have had preliminary discussions with vaccine manufacturers and impressed upon them the need to produce a stockpile of 5 million doses of vaccine so as to be ready for flare-ups of the disease next year in Africa, but so far they haven’t yet revised their production plans to meet demand,’ said Dr. Imran Mirza, Health Specialist, Programme Division, UNICEF.

While substantial progress has been made in recent years in protecting Africa from other main sub-types of meningitis with, for example, the introduction of the MenAfrVac vaccine against meningitis A in 2010, much work needs to be done to protect the African meningitis belt from meningitis C outbreaks.

‘We have been working to reinforce detection and response systems, and are working to secure other sources of meningitis C vaccine in Cuba and Brazil, but the manufacturers have not yet submitted an application for WHO prequalification,’ said Mr. Alejandro Costa, ICG Secretariat. ‘Until they do, we can only turn to those manufacturers who are already prequalified and have provided vaccine in the past. We need to get them to produce and provide vaccine, in the right quantity and at an affordable price.’

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