The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended a new vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, for the prevention of malaria in children.
The global health body in a press statement released on Monday said the recommendation follows advice from its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group.
The new vaccine, R21/Matrix-M vaccine is the second vaccine against malaria to be approved, after the RTS,S vaccine which was approved in 2021.
WHO said demand for the limited-availability RTS,S vaccine has been “unprecedented,” and the addition of the second vaccine is expected to meet the demand and provide sufficient vaccine supply “to benefit all children living in areas where malaria is a public health risk.”
The statement reads in part; “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.”
WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said demand for the RTS,S vaccine far exceeds supply.
Mr Ghebreyesus said 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.”
“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,” he said.
Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, places a particularly high burden on children in the African Region, where nearly half a million children die from the disease each year.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, also accounts for a high percentage of the malaria burden globally.
The 2022 Nigeria Malaria Report shows that malaria death rates in Nigeria dropped by 55 per cent between the years 2000 and 2021, and incidence also dropped by 26 per cent within the same period.
However, with the approval of a new vaccine- R21/Matrix-M, there is hope of ending the disease.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said this second vaccine holds real potential to close the huge demand-and-supply gap.
Ms Moeti said 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 in 18 countries.
The Nigerian government in April, approved the R21/Matrix-M vaccine, becoming the second country after Ghana in the world to grant such approval.
The vaccine is developed by the University of Oxford and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
Despite accounting for high cases of Malaria, Nigeria was in July excluded from the list of 12 African countries to receive 18 million doses of the vaccine from 2023 to 2025.
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.
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.
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