Low cost meningitis vaccine set for release

The World Health Organization will release a new meningitis vaccine, MenAfriVac, to over 12 million people in Burkino Faso as part of an Africa-wide immunization plan that will reach close to 450 million people throughout the continent by 2015. 

The vaccine was developed by the Serum Institute of India and was created to be inexpensive - just 50 U.S. cents per dose - so that poorer countries could afford it, Reuters Africa reports.

MenAfriVac protects against bacterial meningitis A, which causes annual epidemics in 25 African countries, causes thousands of deaths and leaves many other permanently disabled.

“The impact of this vaccine will be truly enormous,” Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, the WHO’s director of vaccines, said, according to Reuters Africa. “This will affect the lives of 450 million people who are at risk of this disease in the African meningitis belt.”

Bacterial meningitis, also known as meningococcal meningitis, infects the thin lining that surrounds the spinal cord and the brain and can cause severe brain damage and death.

The project will begin in Burkino Faso on December 6 with Mali and Niger soon to follow. Unlike previous polysaccharide vaccines, which last about a year, MenAfriVac can last for up to a decade. A standard meningitis vaccine in the U.S. costs around $120. The cost of the entire immunization project is expected to be approximately $550 million.