Reports recently released by the WHO, and covered in the laudable journal Vaccine, credit breaking the cold chain for drastically reducing rates of Meningitis A across the Sub-Saharan African Meningitis Belt. MenAfriVac is the first Controlled – Temperature – Chain (CTC) vaccine to be administered in Africa. It was produced by the Meningitis Vaccination Project, which is a joint initiative headed by the WHO and the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The vaccine has been in development since 2002 and was first widely distributed in 2012. Success rates upward of 94% are now flowing in.
Breaking the cold chain means that this vaccine is able to be stored at temperatures of up to 40° C for up to 4 days. The implications for beneficiaries and administrators alike are exponential. The need for vaccines of all sorts to be refrigerated has proven to be a massive barrier to reducing rates of sickness in the developing world, particularly those in rural areas. As a result, it is too often the case that those badly in need of vaccinations are left untreated simply because their locale either lack the electricity to house cold vaccines, or is too far away from places that can to reach people before the ice packs carrying them melts. Eliminating the need for a refrigeration system allows more vaccines to reach more people (only 9 in 15,000 had to be discarded) and frees up costs both for the developer and the administrator. PATH noted that removing the cold chain resulted in a 50% decrease in cost, bringing the price per dose down to 12 cents from 24. NGOs and other actors are likewise able to free up resources, no longer having to budget for freezers or ice packs, or fuel and transportation specifically earmarked for traveling back and forth between villages and health centres equipped with cold storage.
The results published just this year show that since vaccinations, incident rates have decreased 100% in Benin and upwards of 94% in other areas of the Belt. The attention of vaccine developers, governments, and the international community are taking note. According to Vaccine, 98.7% of developers and 100% of vaccinators see the benefits of CTC vaccines and recommend widespread use across the continent. The certain success of this vaccine opens the doors for new immunization strategies, and less incidents of disease for the developing world.