In a significant development in the fight against malaria, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recommended a new vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, for the prevention of malaria in children.
This groundbreaking recommendation comes following expert advice from the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG), and has received the endorsement of the WHO Director-General following its regular biannual meeting held on 25-29 September.
The announcement, made in a press statement on Monday, marks a crucial milestone in global health.
Nigeria had approved the R21 malaria vaccine back in April, b coming the second country after Ghana to do so.
This vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford and produced on a large scale by the Serum Institute of India, represents only the second-ever vaccine created for a disease that has inflicted suffering for over a thousand years.
The R21 vaccine is now the second malaria vaccine to earn WHO’s recommendation, following the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine, which received a similar endorsement back in 2021.
Both vaccines have demonstrated their safety and efficacy in preventing malaria in children, offering a beacon of hope in the battle against this deadly mosquito-borne disease.
The WHO noted that malaria has long cast a shadow over the African Region, where nearly half a million children succumb to the disease annually, adding that the introduction of these vaccines promises to be a game-changer in curbing its devastating impact.
As the demand for malaria vaccines continues to surge, there have been constraints in the supply of the RTS,S vaccine.
However, with the inclusion of R21 on the list of WHO-recommended malaria vaccines, it is expected that there will be an adequate supply to protect all children residing in malaria-endemic areas.
In addition to this landmark decision, SAGE has also issued recommendations for new vaccines targeting diseases such as dengue and meningitis.
Furthermore, WHO has provided guidelines for immunisation schedules and product recommendations for COVID-19.
Additionally, key programmatic recommendations for polio and the Immunization Agenda 2030 have been addressed, highlighting the organisation’s commitment to public health.
The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed his optimism about the development: “As a malaria researcher, I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria. Now we have two. Demand for the RTS,S vaccine far exceeds supply, so this second vaccine is a vital additional tool to protect more children faster, and to bring us closer to our vision of a malaria-free future.”
Also, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, emphasised the profound significance of this recommendation for the continent, stating: “This second vaccine holds real potential to close the huge demand-and-supply gap. Delivered to scale and rolled out widely, the two vaccines can help bolster malaria prevention and control efforts and save hundreds of thousands of young lives in Africa from this deadly disease.”
To address this demand, WHO allocated a total of 18 million doses of RTS, S/AS01 to 12 African countries from 2023 to 2025.
These allocations were made to Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, emphasising the urgency and importance of malaria prevention in the region.