Pharmaceutical companies have refused to "ramp up" vaccine production to combat acute meningitis epidemic in African countries citing lack of "capacity" even as the disease has already killed at least 800 people in the continent, the WHO said today.
The International Coordinating Group for Vaccine Provision for Epidemic Meningitis Control-comprising International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Medecins sans Frontiere, UNICEF and WHO-called on vaccine manufacturers to ramp up meningitis C vaccine production by five million doses before the 2016 meningitis season starts in January.
"Unfortunately the discussions we have engaged with them (vaccine manufacturers) so far have not held any positive results. There are too many problems. One is that the vaccine is very expensive," said Dr William Perea, the WHO Coordinator for Control of Epidemic Diseases.
"And the second problem is that the vaccine manufacturers are not willing to ramp up the vaccine production to make the vaccine available to WHO to respond eventually to epidemic in the next season," Perea said.
"The manufacturers are saying that they do not have the capacity to ramp up. Whether that is true or not for us, in any case, is difficult to prove. What we know is that producing this vaccine is not a major issue. Production can be very quickly ramped up and if there is a true willingness to scale up production, I am pretty sure the manufacturers can do that," Perea said.
GSK and Sanofi Pasteur are the two pharmaceutical companies currently involved in producing the meningitis C vaccine.
The meningitis C serogroup, which first emerged in the 1970's but then faded away, re-emerged in the continent since 2013 and has caught the global health body unawares.
"It is true that we were not expecting the size of the outbreaks that we have seen this year," said Perea.
In just the first six months of 2015, there have been 12,000 cases of meningitis C in Niger and Nigeria and 800 deaths.
WHO has requested the manufacturers to make available the most advanced conjugate vaccine that combats several strains of meningitis at the same time and provides protection to the individual for a much longer period of time.
This advanced vaccine which came in 2000, costs between USD 50 and USD 80 in the market and is meant for epidemics in the US and Europe.
Meningitis affects Asia, Africa, the US and Europe in cycles that have not been fully understood, said the WHO.