A meningitis vaccine shortage has jeopardized the fight against meningitis in Niger, where more than 6,000 suspected meningitis cases and 443 deaths related to meningitis have occurred in the past three months.
This vaccine shortage has been detrimental to the health of the country according to Pauline Lechevalier, a vaccination specialist with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), who recently discussed the advances the health community has made in responding to meningitis epidemics. She also emphasized the improvements that still need to be made for public health in Niger.
“There are several reasons for the delay in the response to vaccinate,” Lechevalier said. “Firstly, the magnitude of the epidemic took everyone by surprise because since introduction of the meningococcal A vaccine in 2010, Niger had been free of epidemics of similar scale. Thus the international provisioning mechanism for vaccines was not prepared to respond to such an epidemic, which explains some of the initial delay. Meanwhile the global emergency stockpile of vaccines had been exhausted in late April, largely the result of another epidemic in Nigeria and the cancelled delivery by one of the vaccine producers. It therefore became urgent to find alternative sources for hundreds of thousands of additional doses of the vaccine."
She expects these vaccines to be available in the coming days.
“Vaccination is only one element necessary for the prevention and control of epidemics,” Lechevalier said. “The other elements are early detection and confirmation of suspected cases; prompt gathering and sharing of information; and adequate management of confirmed cases. For now, we are still far from being able to vaccinate people against all strains of the disease. Whether in response to epidemics, or when implementing preventive campaigns, we need conjugate vaccines against serogroups A, C, W135 and Y that are affordable and available in sufficient quantities.”
In late April, MSF vaccinated about 70,000 people ages 2 to 15 in two districts of the Dosso region, about 124 miles east of Niamey, using the A/C/W135 polysaccharide vaccine.
“Since we are currently unable to vaccinate more widely, we are strengthening our support to health centers to manage those who are already sick: 3,800 people were treated in MSF-supported centers," she said. "If the extra doses of vaccines arrive quickly, we will evaluate the possibility of helping the authorities vaccinate in other districts, prioritizing the most-affected areas.”