New Heat-Stable Meningitis Vaccine Enables African Vaccination Program to Reach Remote Areas
By Liisa Vexler
MenAfrVac is a revolutionary new meningitis vaccine that does not need to be refrigerated constantly and is viable for up to 4 days at temperatures as high as 39°C. In November last year, MenAfrVac was used in a 10-day vaccination campaign in Benin using a "Controlled Temperature Chain" (CTC) approach. In contrast to the usual cold chain where vaccines are kept constantly chilled to 2-8°C, the CTC approach allows the vaccine to be kept out of the cold chain for up to 4 days. In the pilot study, 155,000 people were vaccinated in 150 villages in a rural district of Benin. Complete coverage was achieved and there were no reported cases of meningitis A in 2013.
The significance of being able to use CTC is wide ranging. Vaccination programs can reach remote areas where it is difficult to keep vaccines cold. Health workers do not need to spend time and resources ensuring that vaccines are constantly kept cold and can avoid having to journey back each night from remote villages to refreeze ice packs. It is possible to vaccinate more people a day. In addition, health workers overwhelmingly preferred the CTC approach.
A 2011 WHO study on the costs of a meningitis vaccination campaign in Chad showed that the cost could possibly be halved from 0.24 to 0.12 US dollars per person by using MenAfrVac and enabling the cold chain to be avoided.
Meningitis is a serious problem in sub-Saharan Africa, with thousands dying in epidemics every year. In 1996 and 1997, meningitis affected over a quarter of a million people and took the lives of over 25,000. Survivors suffer from loss of hearing, epilepsy, and mental retardation. Since 2010, the MenAfriVac vaccine made by Serum Institute of India Ltd. has been given to more than 150 million people in 12 African countries and was 100% effective in preventing group A meningitis in those vaccinated. The aim is to vaccinate more than 250 million people in the 26 countries most affected by 2016.