Why is there no vaccine suitable for Africa?

MVP was created to overcome practical obstacles in developing an affordable, custom meningitis vaccine for Africa

In the 1990s, when more than 100,000 people died in Africa from a group A meningitis outbreak, there was also a group C meningitis outbreak in the United Kingdom, which resulted in 1,000 deaths. By 2001, three vaccine manufacturers had developed monovalent group C meningococcal vaccine for the United Kingdom. Since then, introduction of meningococcal C conjugate vaccines in Canada, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, and other countries has led to an almost complete disappearance of group C disease in these countries, even among unvaccinated infants.

‘Please, don't give us a vaccine we can't afford. That is worse than no vaccine.’

Hassane Adamou, Secretary General for the Niger Ministry of Health

So why did vaccine manufacturers not take the initiative to develop a group A monovalent conjugate vaccine?

Until recently, the public sector encouraged pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs and vaccines for use in the poorest countries by appealing to corporate altruism and by providing incentives. Despite these efforts, successful development of new vaccines for use in developing countries is limited to a few examples such as cholera or typhoid fever—vaccines with markets such as travelers and the military.

Some of the reasons why vaccines are not introduced or are introduced belatedly in developing countries are:

  • Diseases are not correctly identified as priorities for prevention and control.
  • There is not enough information on local disease burden or programmatic feasibility.
  • Pharmaceutical companies are less inclined to develop drugs or vaccines that generate small returns on investment.
  • Many developing countries cannot afford to finance vaccine research or purchase the vaccines.

In the early 1990s, meningococcal A and C conjugate vaccines were under development with several manufacturers. Yet, by 1999, all the programs had ceased due to the high costs of vaccine development and the pressure to produce conjugate vaccines with high profitability.

MVP was created to overcome the practical obstacles to developing an effective conjugate vaccine that would rid Africa of a terrible disease that has been plaguing it for more than a century.