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Nigeria first to introduce new vaccine against meningitis

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Nigeria has become the first country in the world to roll out a new vaccine- Men5CV, to protect people against five strains of the meningococcus bacteria.

The new vaccine was recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is said to have the potential to change the trajectory of meningitis disease and prevent future outbreaks.

According to a news release Friday on WHO’s website, the vaccine and emergency vaccination activities are funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which funds the global meningitis vaccine stockpile and supports lower-income countries with routine vaccination against meningitis.

Data from WHO shows Nigeria recorded 1,742 suspected meningitis cases, including 101 confirmed cases and 153 deaths in seven states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe, Zamfara, between 1 October 2023 and 11 March.

WHO said the outbreak of “Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) serogroup C” led to the recorded cases.

Nigeria is one of the 26 meningitis hyper-endemic countries in Africa, as the continent recorded a 50 per cent jump in annual meningitis cases in 2023.

Vaccination campaign

WHO noted that to quell the deadly outbreak of meningitis, a vaccination campaign was undertaken from 25 to 28 March, to initially reach more than one million people aged 1-29 years.

“Meningitis is an old and deadly foe, but this new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks and saving many lives,” the WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, was quoted to have said.

“Nigeria’s rollout brings us one step closer to our goal to eliminate meningitis by 2030.”

In his remarks, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Muhammad Pate, said the vaccine provides health workers with a new tool to stop the outbreak and also put the country on a path to elimination.

The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Muhammad Pate. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official X handle of Mr Pate |
The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Muhammad Pate. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official X handle of Mr Pate |

Mr Pate said the ministry got the support of community leaders with the rollout and is working on expansion.

“We’ve done a lot of work preparing health workers and the health system for the rollout of this new vaccine. We got invaluable support from our populations despite this fasting period and from our community leaders especially the Emir of Gumel in Jigawa State who personally launched the vaccination campaign in the state,” Mr Pate said.

“We’ll be monitoring progress closely and hopefully expanding the immunisation in the coming months and years to accelerate progress.”

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According to the UK Minister for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell, the rollout of one million vaccines in northern Nigeria will help save lives, prevent long-term illness, and boost the goal of defeating meningitis globally by 2030.

“This is exactly the kind of scientific innovation, supported by the UK, which I hope is replicated in years to come to help us drive further breakthroughs, including wiping out other diseases,” he was quoted as saying.

More about vaccine

WHO explained that the “revolutionary” new vaccine offers a powerful shield against the five major strains of the meningococcal bacteria (A, C, W, Y, and X) in a single shot.

The global agency said: “All five strains cause meningitis and blood poisoning. This provides broader protection than the current vaccine used in much of Africa, which is only effective against the A strain.

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“The new vaccine has the potential to significantly reduce meningitis cases and advance progress in defeating meningitis. This is especially important for countries like Nigeria where multiple serogroups are prevalent.”

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It added that the new vaccine uses the same technology as the meningitis A conjugate vaccine (MenAfriVac®), which wiped out meningococcal A epidemics in Nigeria.

WHO also noted that the new multivalent conjugate vaccine was 13 years in the making and was based on a partnership between PATH and the Serum Institute of India, with funding support from the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

About Meningitis

Meningitis is a serious infection that leads to the inflammation of the membranes (meninges) that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. There are multiple causes of meningitis, including viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic pathogens.

Symptoms often include headache, fever, and stiff neck. Bacterial meningitis is the most serious, it can also result in septicaemia (blood poisoning), and can seriously disable or kill within 24 hours those that contract it.

To respond to the outbreak in Nigeria, WHO has been supporting the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) in disease surveillance, active case finding, sample testing, and case management.


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