Nigeria has become the first country to roll out a new meningitis vaccine. The product, a shot able to protect against the five causes of meningococcal meningitis, was developed by the Serum Institute of India (SIIPL) and health equity non-profit PATH. With more meningitis vaccine-based projects in the pipeline, stakeholders are hopeful that this takes the world one step closer to eliminating meningitis in the next six years.


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

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General


The Meningitis Vaccine Project

Meningitis, a serious infection that leads to the inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, has long been endemic to Africa with the largest meningitis epidemic sweeping through the continent in 1996-97 and causing the death of 25,000 people. To find a solution and tackle the challenge of affordability for this developing part of the world, the World Health Organization, PATH, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joined forces to create the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) at the beginning of the 2000s.

The Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and a company focused on offering accessible vaccines, became a key partner for the project, helping to develop an affordable option to confront meningitis, particularly in the region known as the “meningitis belt,” which extends from Senegal to Ethiopia.

In 2010, the Serum Institute-produced MenAfriVac meningococcus serogroup A vaccine was prequalified by WHO and began its rollout through mass preventive campaigns, and as of 2016 through routine immunization programmes. MenAfriVac proved to be a major breakthrough and was able to eliminate epidemics caused by meningococcus serogroup A, a strain that had accounted for 80–85 percent of meningitis epidemics in the region.


Providing Broader Protection

The Serum Institute has continued its commitment to meningitis and through a 13-year collaboration with PATH and funding from the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has developed the new Men5CV (branded MenFive) vaccine, the first conjugate vaccine to protect against all five causes of meningococcal meningitis, A, C, W, Y, and X, in a single shot.

MenFive, initially prequalified by the World Health Organization (WHO) in July of last year, is also the only vaccine that prevents meningitis caused by meningococcal group X, a pathogen increasingly implicated in meningitis outbreaks in Africa. While the new vaccine uses the same technology, it provides broader protection than MenAfriVac, which is only effective against the A strain.

“The 2010 introduction of meningococcal A vaccine—which eliminated meningitis A epidemics from the African meningitis belt—was a landmark achievement that showed freedom from meningococcal meningitis was possible. But it was only the beginning of the story,” said Dr. Nanthalile Mugala, PATH Africa Region Chief when the vaccine became prequalified. “We now have the potential to finally end all meningococcal meningitis epidemics in Africa, once and for all.”

The rollout of the new vaccine, according to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, “brings us one step closer to our goal to eliminate meningitis by 2030,” a goal which was established in the 2020 WHO global roadmap for defeating meningitis.

Both the vaccine and emergency vaccination activities are funded by the public-private global health partnership, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which funds the global meningitis vaccine stockpile, and offers support to lower-income countries with routine vaccination against meningitis.


Ongoing Commitment to Meningitis and Affordable Vaccines

Serum Institute has taken a further step towards combating meningitis, signing a 5-year licensing agreement this week with the University of Oxford to manufacture and distribute a chimeric protein-based vaccine targeting Meningitis-B.

“This collaboration exemplifies a shared dedication to global health and underscores the importance of accessible vaccines,” said Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of Serum Institute. “This partnership represents a monumental leap forward in our fight against meningitis, ensuring life-saving protection reaches those who need it most.”

This is not the first collaboration between Serum Institute and Oxford. The co-developed R21/Matrix-M vaccine was endorsed by WHO last year based on the vaccine’s affordability and availability as demand for the other WHO-recommended option from GSK, RTS,S, far exceeded supply. With a price tag of USD 2-4 per dose, it follows the Indian firm’s traditional low-cost approach.

Serum Institute also recently joined the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovation’s (CEPI) global network of vaccine producers after Aspen Pharmacare in South Africa, Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal, and Bio Farma in Indonesia and will receive USD 30 million to help advance vaccine preparedness amongst Global South countries for future disease outbreaks.

“As a leading vaccine manufacturer, we’re committed to utilising our well-established manufacturing and rapid response capabilities to strengthen epidemic preparedness and increase access to life-saving vaccines for those who need them most at an affordable price. This collaboration will enable us to respond more rapidly and equitably to public health disease outbreaks, particularly in Global South countries where access to life-saving vaccines can be limited,” said Adar Poonawalla.