Maintaining the cold chain—a system to protect lifesaving vaccines from exposure to heat—has been a longstanding challenge to the success of vaccination campaigns, especially in remote, hard-to-reach areas where refrigeration isn’t a given.
The first mass vaccination campaign conducted in Africa with a vaccine that doesn’t require constant refrigeration provided complete coverage with MenAfriVac® vaccine. The vaccine was kept outside of the cold chain for up to four days and stayed viable even in temperatures up to 102°F (39°C), according to a study published online today in the journal Vaccine.
A vaccine breakthrough
Conducted as part of a ten-day meningitis A vaccination campaign in Benin in November 2012, the study represents a breakthrough not only for MenAfriVac®, but potentially for increasing the efficiency, coverage, and affordability of other vaccines. The approach could significantly reduce the workloads of health workers, who spend vast amounts of time ensuring that vaccines are kept cold, the study found. It could also extend vaccines to areas that are so far removed from access to electricity they could never be reached by the cold chain.
Since this video telling the story of MenAfriVac® was made, 151 million people been vaccinated, and some 250 million are expected to have received the vaccine by the end of 2014.
In addition, a separate study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization on the economic benefits of this approach found that the costs of administering the MenAfriVac® vaccine could drop by 50 percent.
PATH’s pioneering role
The MenAfriVac® vaccine was developed through the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a partnership between PATH and the World Health Organization. It used a unique vaccine development model that aimed at providing an effective, affordable, and long-term solution to epidemic meningitis in the African meningitis belt, a large area that stretches across the continent from Senegal to Ethiopia. Over the past century, hundreds of thousands of people were killed or permanently disabled by the cyclical epidemics of meningitis A, many of them children or young adults.
“Findings from these new studies show that it is possible to deliver vaccines more conveniently and at a lower cost when refrigeration is not needed every step of the way,” said Dr. David C. Kaslow, vice president of Product Development at PATH. “MenAfriVac® is helping to show a less expensive, simpler, and more convenient way for other current and future lifesaving vaccines to get to the hardest to reach people in need.”
- Kathleen Donnelly was formerly a writer and PATH blog editor at PATH.