It might be easy to miss the significance of the latest headlines about the MenAfriVac® vaccine, developed by PATH in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Serum Institute of India Ltd.: “WHO decision paves the way for routine immunization of infants.”
The news was anything but routine.
Rather, it was the capstone of a 14-year effort to protect children and young people from a disease that previously killed or disabled thousands every year.
The vaccineʼs journey began with a plea from African health ministers for help in their battle against epidemics of meningitis A that regularly swept across their nations.
It continued over a decade, driven by PATH and a public-private partnership of scientists, public health experts, vaccine manufacturers, and donors from four continents.
Together, the partners focused on a singular mission: to create an affordable, effective, tailor-made vaccine against meningitis A.
Today, that vaccine—developed, tested, approved, and rolled out in record time—has all but rid Africa's meningitis belt of the major cause of those deadly epidemics. Mass immunization campaigns in 15 countries have reached more than 217 million people since the vaccine was launched in 2010, with 64 million vaccinated in 2014 alone.
Twelve more countries will continue or launch vaccination campaigns over the next two years.
Not a single case of meningitis A has been found among those vaccinated.
Beyond the millions of people now protected from the disease, the development and rollout of the MenAfriVac vaccine has had a profound impact across Africa, creating stronger immunization, public health, and disease surveillance systems in many countries.
While the PATH–WHO Meningitis Vaccine Project came to a close in 2014, the vaccine is expected to reach more than 400 million people by 2020.
In 2014, PATH, along with the National Institutes of Health, the US Food and Drug Administration, and Serum Institute of India, was recognized with a prestigious “Deals of Distinction” award for creating a solution to an urgent global health need by bringing together commercial and public health interests through the exchange of intellectual property and transfer of technology.
The partnership’s most recent milestone is perhaps its most important: WHO approval of the vaccine for use in infants.
This approval allows the vaccine to become part of routine immunization at the country level starting in 2015 to ensure disease control for generations to come, sustained by the countries themselves.
MenAfriVac is a registered trademark of Serum Institute of India Ltd.
By 2020, the MenAfriVac vaccine is expected to protect more than 400 million people, preventing 1 million cases of meningitis A, 150,000 deaths, and 250,000 cases of severe disability.
Key partners: Serum Institute of India Ltd.; WHO; ministries of health in Africa; three dozen global collaborators.
Key funders: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Michael & Susan Dell Foundation; Shefa Fund hosted by the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation; US Agency for International Development; US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; individual contributors and family foundations.