oyebanji2_ PIUS UTOMI EKPEIAFP via Getty Images_lassa fever PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

Fast-Tracking a Lassa Fever Vaccine

The remarkably rapid development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines offers valuable lessons for stakeholders working to prevent Lassa fever, which has been ravaging West African countries for decades. If governments follow this blueprint, they could demonstrate the power of local leadership in shaping global health initiatives.

LONDON – The COVID-19 pandemic may have exposed the vulnerability of the world’s health systems, but it also led to a truly impressive achievement: the development and production of life-saving vaccines more quickly than ever before. As our focus shifts to other public-health challenges, we must harness these technologies and apply the lessons learned during the pandemic to address other deadly diseases that require urgent attention. One of these diseases, Lassa fever, has been ravaging West African countries for over 50 years, and yet there is still no vaccine to prevent its spread.

Work is already underway to protect communities against the disease, which causes hemorrhagic fever and kills about 5,000 of the hundreds of thousands of people infected each year in West Africa. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has invested in six Lassa fever vaccine candidates, four of which are among the first in the world to have entered clinical trials. Collaborating with authorities in Nigeria, Benin, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, CEPI is also conducting a multi-country epidemiology study that will inform future clinical trials.

But these initiatives require the same cross-sector collaboration and investment that underpinned the success of the COVID-19 vaccines. That means sustained financing and engagement by governments, the private sector, academia, and philanthropic organizations in the affected countries. It is crucial to build systems within states that can deliver the vaccine once authorized. Domestic leadership is essential, but other stakeholders can also play a crucial role in supporting research and development efforts.

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