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Nigeria Becomes the First Country to Roll Out New Meningitis Vaccine

File photo of a health worker preparing to administer a vaccine. Frederic J. BROWN / AFP

Nigeria has become the first country in the world to implement a new meningitis vaccine (named Men5CV) recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), in a historic milestone.

According to WHO, this is especially significant in countries like Nigeria, where several serogroups exist. The new vaccine employs the same technology as the meningitis A conjugate vaccine (MenAfriVac®), which eradicated meningococcal A outbreaks in Nigeria.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, funds the global meningitis vaccine stockpile and provides routine meningitis vaccination to low-income nations.

According to WHO, the innovative new vaccination provides a robust protection against all five major strains of meningococcal bacteria (A, C, W, Y, and X) in a single dose. All five strains result in meningitis and blood poisoning.

This, it stated, offers broader protection than the current vaccination used in much of Africa, which is only effective against the A strain.

The novel vaccination is thought to have the potential to drastically reduce meningitis cases and enhance the fight against meningitis.

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

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

“Northern Nigeria, particularly the states of Jigawa, Bauchi, and Yobe, were badly hit by the deadly outbreak of meningitis, and this vaccine provides health workers with a new tool to both stop the outbreak but also put the country on a path to elimination,” said Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate of the Nigerian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

“We’ve spent a lot of time training health personnel and the health system for the introduction of this new vaccination. Despite the fasting time, we had significant support from our people as well as community leaders, including the Emir of Gumel in Jigawa state, who personally began the state’s immunization campaign. We will continuously monitor developments and, ideally, extend immunization in the next months and years to speed improvement.”

This new multivalent conjugate vaccine was developed over a 13-year period by PATH and the Serum Institute of India in cooperation.

The UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office provided crucial funding for its development.

Nigeria is one of 26 African countries with hyper-endemic meningitis, located in the African Meningitis Belt. Last year, there was a 50% increase in meningitis cases reported across Africa.

Between 1 October 2023 and 11 March 2024, an outbreak of Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) serogroup C resulted in 1742 suspected meningitis cases, 101 confirmed cases, and 153 deaths in seven of Nigeria’s 36 states (Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe, and Zamfara).

To combat the lethal outbreak, a vaccine program will be launched on March 25-28, 2024, with the goal of first reaching more than one million persons aged 1-29 years.

Meningitis is a dangerous infection that causes inflammation in the membranes (meninges) that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.

Meningitis can be caused by a variety of diseases, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Symptoms commonly include headaches, fever, and stiff neck.

Bacterial meningitis is the most serious, causing septicaemia (blood poisoning) and severely incapacitating or killing people infected within 24 hours.

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