ADDIS ABABA – More than 1.7 million doses of the world’s first malaria vaccine have been administered in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi in the past two years, benefitting more than 650 000 children with additional malaria protection, said the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
The number of children reached in this relatively short period indicates strong community demand for the vaccine as well as the capacity of the countries’ child immunization programs to deliver the vaccine on a novel schedule.
At a time when global progress in malaria control has stalled, the protection provided by the RTS,S malaria vaccine the potential to save tens of thousands of lives per year.
“Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi show that existing childhood vaccination platforms can effectively deliver the malaria vaccine to children, some of whom have not been able to access an insecticide-treated bed net or other malaria prevention measures,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, WHO Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals.
“This vaccine may be key to making malaria prevention more equitable, and to saving more lives,” the director added.
WHO Global Malaria Program said, over the last 2 decades, remarkable results have been achieved with existing malaria control tools, averting more than 7 million deaths and 1.5 billion cases of the disease.
“However, progress towards key targets of our global malaria strategy remains off course. To get back on track, new tools are urgently needed – and malaria vaccines must be a critical component of the overall toolkit,” said Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of the program.
RTS,S is the first and, to date, the only vaccine that has been shown to reduce malaria in children, including life-threatening severe malaria, related hospital admissions and the need for blood transfusions., according to WHO.
The vaccine is currently being piloted in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission where malaria can account for up to 60% of childhood outpatient visits to health facilities.
Insights generated by the pilot implementation will inform a WHO recommendation on broader use of the vaccine across sub-Saharan Africa.
Global advisory bodies for immunization and malaria are expected to convene in October 2021 to review RTS,S data and consider whether to recommend wider use of the vaccine.