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The Meningitis Vaccine Project has completed the Phase I clinical trial of a new vaccine against serogroup A meningococcus. Meningitis, an infection of the the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, is fatal in 10% of its victims and permanently disables another 20% - even if they have received antibiotic treatment. There are a few different strains of the bacteria responsible for the majority of global cases, and serotype A in particular is predominant cause in the African "meningitis belt," which stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia and contains an at-risk population of about 430 million. Massive epidemcis hit the region in seasonal waves every 8 to 12 years.
"Because the disease occurs in children, adolescents, and young adults of working age, the disruption and chaos in the community are considerable," said Dr. Kader Konde, WHO focal point for MVP. "The impact of the disease on individuals and their families is such that an epidemic can quickly turn into a social, human, and economic disaster for the affected countries. Meningitis is one of the most feared diseases on the African continent, and the new conjugate vaccine brings real hope that huge epidemics like that of 1996 will be a thing of the past."
The trial consisted of 74 subjects across three sites in India, and succesfully demonstrated the safety and immunogenicity of the 'PsA-TT' conjugate vaccine. Phase II trails are expected to begin in Mali and the Gambia later this year, and if all goes well it is hoped that the vaccine will be available in 3 to 4 years for approximately 40 cents per dose. Unlike existing polysaccharide meningococcal vaccines, PsA-TT is expected to be safe for children as young as 6 to 8 weeks old (and so more easily incorporated into regular immunization schedules), and will benefit the broader population through herd immunity.
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