The World Health Organization (WHO) has given it’s stamp of approval for the use of the meningitis group A vaccine, MenAfriVac® in infants in Sub-Sahara Africa.

meningitis epidemics
African meningitis Belt/CDC

In the four years since its introduction in Africa, MenAfriVac® has had an immediate and dramatic impact in breaking the cycle of meningitis A epidemics, leading the safe, effective technology to be approved by WHO through its prequalification process for use in infants, and paving the way for protecting millions more children at risk of the deadly disease. The announcement was made today by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP)—a partnership between the global health nonprofit PATH and WHO—and Serum Institute of India Ltd (SIIL), which manufactures the MenAfriVac® vaccine.

“Initial mass vaccination campaigns with MenAfriVac® have been highly effective in reducing the number of meningitis A cases,” said Dr. Marie-Pierre Préziosi, director of MVP. “But epidemics will return when rising numbers of unprotected newborns become a larger proportion of the total population over time. Now, with this decision, health officials will be able to ensure that population-wide protection is sustained by routinely immunizing infants.”

The WHO decision means that the new, 5 µg dose of the meningitis A vaccine meets international standards of quality, safety, and efficacy and can therefore be administered to children younger than one year of age in Africa. MenAfriVac® had previously been authorized for use in children and young adults, aged 1-29 years.

Before the introduction of MenAfriVac®, people living in countries of the meningitis belt, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, were regularly struck by meningitis A epidemics in which sudden onset of symptoms could rapidly lead to death or permanent disability. One of the most devastating outbreaks ever recorded was in 1996-1997, when an epidemic wave infected more than 250,000 people and killed over 25,000 in just a few months. The only existing vaccine was insufficient to break the cycle.