The World Health Organisation has recommended a new vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, for the prevention of malaria in children and Nigeria will be getting it by mid is 2024.
The recommendation follows advice from the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group and was endorsed by the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, following its regular biannual meeting held on September 25.
This was disclosed in a recent press statement from the global health organization.
In April, Nigeria became the second country to approve the R21 malaria vaccine, after Ghana.
The R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford and manufactured and scaled up by the Serum Institute of India, is only the second vaccine the world has seen for a disease that has caused untold suffering for millennia.
WHO also issued recommendations on the advice of SAGE for new vaccines for dengue and meningitis, along with immunisation schedules and product recommendations for COVID-19.
WHO also issued key immunisation programmatic recommendations on polio, Immunisation Agenda 2030, and recovering the immunisation programme.The R21 vaccine is the second malaria vaccine recommended by WHO, following the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine, which received a WHO recommendation in 2021.
“Both vaccines are shown to be safe and effective in preventing malaria in children and, when implemented broadly, are expected to have high public health impact,” the statement read in part.
WHO said the demand for malaria vaccines is unprecedented; however, available supply of RTS,S/AS01 vaccine is limited.
In response to the high demand for the first-ever malaria vaccine, 12 countries in Africa were in July allocated a total of 18 million doses of RTS,S/AS01 for the 2023–2025 period.
The allocations were made to Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
However, the addition of R21 to the list of WHO-recommended malaria vaccines is expected to result in sufficient vaccine supply to benefit all children living in areas where malaria is a public health risk.
“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”, Dr Ghebreyesus said.
“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.”
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, emphasized the importance of this recommendation for the continent, saying: “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.”
At least 28 countries in Africa plan to introduce a WHO-recommended malaria vaccine as part of their national immunisation programmes. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has approved providing technical and financial support to roll out malaria vaccines to 18 countries.
WHO also noted that the RTS,S vaccine will be rolled out in some African countries in early 2024, and the R21 malaria vaccine is expected to become available to countries in mid-2024.According to Moeti, Nigeria has seen major progress but accounts for around 27 per cent of the global burden of malaria cases.
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