New meningitis vaccine found to provide better protection than older vaccines

A vaccine developed by the Serum Institute of India, Ltd., was found to be better at protecting people from a strain of meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa than older products from companies including GlaxoSmithKline.

A research study conducted with 600 children under two years of age found that over 96 percent of those who received the MenAfriVac vaccine had high levels of antibodies in their blood after four weeks compared with 64 percent in the group receiving Glaxo’s Mencevax Acwy. The Serum Institute is led by billionaire Cyrus Poonwalla, Bloomberg reports.

“For more than a century, these African countries have been suffering because of this huge and devastating epidemic,” Marie-Pierre Preziosi, who heads the unit responsible for clinical development of a meningitis vaccine at the WHO, said from her Geneva office on June 14, according to Bloomberg. “We now have a tool that has the potential to eliminate meningitis epidemics from Africa.”

Burkina Faso became the first nation to offer the MenAfriVac vaccine in 2010 to all citizens below the age of 30. There have been just four confirmed cases of meningitis in 2011, the lowest ever incidence in the nation’s history, compared with last year when there were 66 confirmed cases caused by the A strain.

Since 1988, there have been over a million people in Africa infected by the disease, which can lead to mental retardation and permanent deafness. Meningitis can be fatal within hours if untreated, according to the World Health Organization.

Close to 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have received the Serum vaccine to date and another 45 million people from Mali, Niger and three other countries will receive inoculation by December, the WHO’s Preziosi said.