This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.
Infectious disease is the world’s greatest threat to children, but a meningitis vaccine developed at Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) is saving countless lives around the world. The vaccine protects against meningitis C—a potentially fatal infection of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Older vaccines failed to protect infants, but NRC’s vaccine works for people of all ages, including children as young as two months.
Meningitis kills up to 10 percent of its victims within 48 hours, and survivors are often left with serious health problems such as permanent brain damage, hearing loss and learning disabilities. Half of the victims are less than 2 years of age.
In the 1970s, NRC set out to create a vaccine that would work on children’s immune systems. The result was a new vaccine that is more reliable and stimulates the production of meningitis antibodies in infants.
Great Britain was the ﬁrst country to use the vaccine in a mass immunization program. In the ﬁrst year, the incidence of meningitis C decreased by 75 to 85 percent. In two years it was virtually wiped out. NRC’s innovative work has spawned a new generation of vaccines that may one day prevent a wide variety of diseases including pneumonia and some types of cancer.