Millions of children in developing countries like Kenya will soon be protected against typhoid fever, following an approval by Gavi to support the introduction of a vaccine.
The funds that are up to the tune of Sh8.7 billion ($85 million) agreed by Gavi Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) last week will go towards bulk-buying of new typhoid conjugate vaccines (TCVs), the alliance said yesterday.
"Typhoid has long been eliminated from most industrialised nations, but it is still a serious threat in developing countries where the vast majority of deaths occur," said Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Gavi board chair.
Typhoid shots from five other drug makers, including one developed by privately-held Bharat Biotech, are also under development and expected to be available between 2018 and 2022.
Gavi, which is backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, Unicef and donor governments, among others, funds bulk-buy vaccination programmes for poorer nations that can't afford shots at developed-economy prices.
The first countries are expected to apply for the vaccine next year, with the aim of starting to roll it out in 2019 for children over the age of six months.
"This vaccine will be a life-saver for millions of children, especially those living without access to clean water or sanitation," said the chair of Gavi's board. Early this year, a researcher warned that poor laboratory capability, surveillance and lack of sanitation are enabling the spread of a typhoid strain that is resistant to drugs.
This announcement comes against the backdrop of a study that showed that a trial vaccine against typhoid, a disease that kills more than 200,000 people every year, is safe for use.
Dubbed Vi-TT and targeting children under two, who are disproportionately affected, the vaccine may prevent more than half of all typhoid infections, researchers wrote in The Lancet medical journal.
The experimental vaccine, which is already licensed for use in infants in India, but nowhere else, is the only effective vaccine that is also safe for babies.
Gavi chief executive Seth Berkley said the growing spread of drug resistant strains of typhoid posed a major threat, to which a vaccine could offer an important defence.
"Strong (vaccine) coverage through routine immunisation, together with efforts to improve access to clean water and hygiene will play a key role in dramatically reducing the disease," he said. Currently, two typhoid vaccines are available on the international market: One is an inactivated (killed) vaccine given as a shot. The other is a live, attenuated (weakened) vaccine which is taken orally.