Gavi Includes Ebola, Meningitis, Rabies and Hepatitis B Vaccines in its Portfolio
A member of the ring vaccination team vaccinates a man in Bosolo village. Vaccines offered as part of Gavi’s portfolio now also include preventive Ebola vaccines for care workers.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, announced last week that it will offer high risk countries the option of obtaining preventative Ebola vaccines, particularly for health workers, as part of the rollout of new vaccine offerings, which also include  meningitis, rabies and hepatitis B vaccines.

Plans to add the vaccines to the basket of available products were initially drawn up before the  COVID-19 pandemic, but put on hold due to lack of appropriate supply or regulations, with applications opening only now to eligible countries.

“Gavi’s ability as an alliance to protect health and save lives hinges on its ability to ensure vaccines are accessible, as quickly as possible, to those who need them the most,” said Gavi CEO Dr Sania Nishtar. “The new programmes launching today demonstrate the impact of this work.” 

Ebola is a rare but dangerous viral disease, with a 50-60% mortality rate. Infections may be transmitted through close contact with infected animals – for instance, fruit bats – but also through human-to-human contact. 

Gavi first offered Ebola vaccine candidates to health workers and suspected Ebola contacts during the 2014-2016 West Africa outbreak as an outbreak response

Two vaccines subsequently received regulatory approval and in May 2024 WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) decided to recommend the vaccines for preventive use, as well, in high-risk groups, such as health care providers in areas of endemic transmission.

Meningitis vaccine rollout aims for elimination

Gavi will also roll out a newly-approved vaccine for five strains of meningitis: meningococcal serogroups A, C, W, Y, and X. 

Central and Western African countries most prone to meningitis infections in the so-called “meningitis belt”

The vaccine is a likely game-changer in the fight against the disease, experts say, noting that in the so-called “meningitis belt” of sub-Saharan African countries, the bacterial form of the diseases, regarded as the most dangerous, could potentially be eliminated

The product, MenFive, received WHO pre-qualification in July 2023 and has already been implemented in standard childhood immunisation programmes in Nigeria and Niger.

In 2019, there were about 236,000 meningitis deaths, with the greatest burden in children younger than five years, with 112,000 deaths.

Hepatitis B and rabies post-exposure jabs

Other new vaccines include hepatitis B vaccines for newborns, granting infants critical additional protection in their first months of life, when they are at high risk of infection: including from maternal transmission.

According to Gavi, nine out of ten infants infected with hepatitis B will develop chronic forms of the disease, while a quarter develop severe liver disease, which currently kills 884,000 people a year.

Human rabies post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) vaccines are the last of the new package. 

The initiative aims to build more stockpiles of the rabies vaccine, which are often scarce and inaccessible, especially in remote areas, for post-exposure use. 

Rabies, which has an almost 100% mortality rate, remains a serious health problem in some 150 countries, where it is transmitted by infected dogs.

But vaccines alone are not enough to stop the disease, experts underlined. 

“To stop human rabies deaths completely, we urgently need better data and surveillance, dog populations must be vaccinated, and people must be educated about what to do if bitten, and how to avoid being bitten in the first place,” said Professor Lucille Blumberg, Chair of United Against Rabies, pointing out to several blind spots of the human immunisation programme.

Image Credits: WHO/L. Mackenzie , CDC.

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