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New meningitis jab does well

8th June 2007

A new vaccine offers good protection against a form of meningitis which has devastated populations in some of the poorest countries in the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

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Produced by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) in collaboration with the Serum Institute of India, the jab was tested and found to be safe and effective in trials among toddlers in Mali and The Gambia, WHO said in a statement on its website.

"The vaccine is expected to block infection by the serogroup A meningococcus, and therefore extend protection to the entire population, including the unvaccinated, a phenomenon known as herd immunity," it said.

The Phase 2 vaccine trial revealed that the new jab could eventually slash the incidence of epidemics in the meningitis belt of 21 sub-Saharan African countries.

“The vaccine will allow elimination of the meningococcal epidemics that have afflicted the continent for more than 100 years," MVP director F. Marc LaForce said in the WHO statement.

The new vaccine produces antibody levels almost 20 times higher than those obtained with currently available vaccines, meaning that protection could last for several years.

WHO director general Margaret Chan said: "This important study brings real hope that the lives of thousands of children, teenagers, and young adults will be saved by immunization and that widespread suffering, sickness and socioeconomic disruption can be avoided."

A Phase 2/3 study will now follow, in which the vaccine will be tested in 2- to 29-year-olds—the population that will be mostly targeted by mass vaccination campaigns. Testing will take place in Mali, The Gambia, and at least one other African country.

Additional studies are planned in India, where the vaccine will be licensed by the Serum Institute of India, making it available for as little as 40 US cents a dose to the poorest nations. It could be introduced in Africa within the next two to three years.


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