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Nigeria first to introduce new 5-strain protective meningitis vaccine

The UNICEF and the private-public partnership Gavi Vaccine Alliance will roll out its malaria vaccine for the first time in nine African countries to fight one of the deadliest diseases in the continent, according to the WHO.

HQ Team

April 25, 2024: Nigeria has become the first African nation to introduce the latest cutting-edge meningitis vaccine with protection against five strains of the meningococcus bacteria into its immunization programmes, announced the World Health Organization.

“Meningitis is an old and deadly foe, but this new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks and saving many lives,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, commenting on the rollout.

The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization has recommended that all countries in the African meningitis belt introduce pentavalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine, Men5CV, into their routine immunization programmes in a single-dose schedule at 9 to 18 months of age to treat meningitis.

Men5CV protects against five bacterial strains of meningitis, A, C, W, Y and X, in a single shot. Thanks to the broader protection, it offers better prospects than the current vaccine used in much of Africa, only effective against the A strain.

Nigeria is one of the 26 meningitis hyper-endemic countries of Africa, situated in the area known as the African Meningitis Belt. Last year, there was a 50% jump in annual meningitis cases reported across Africa.

“We’ll be monitoring progress closely, and hopefully expanding the immunization in the coming months and years to accelerate progress,” said Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate of the Nigerian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

Between October of 2023 and March 2024, an outbreak of Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) serogroup C led to 153 deaths in seven of 36 Nigerian states. The government undertook a vaccination campaign last month to quash the deadly outbreak. The aim is to initially reach more than one million people aged 1-29 years.

“[T]his vaccine provides health workers with a new tool to both stop this outbreak but also put the country on a path to elimination,” Pate stressed.

Killer Meningitis

Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection surrounding the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord. Typical symptoms include headache, fever and stiff neck.

The bacterial strains are the most deadly, and can lead to blood poisoning, death, or disability within 24 hours, WHO warns.

Global burden of meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is a leading killer of children under the age of 5, particularly in Africa, claiming 112 000  lives prematurely every year. In 2019, WHO and partners launched the global roadmap to defeating meningitis by 2030.

“Nigeria’s rollout brings us one step closer to our goal to eliminate meningitis by 2030,” Tedros highlighted.

The new vaccination programme is funded by Gavi the Vaccine Alliance. It was developed by PATH, a global health non-profit, and the Serum Institute of India, with financing from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

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