Malaria: Large-scale vaccination in Africa 'will begin soon', says Gavi

Vaccination against malaria in the most at-risk areas of the African continent “will begin soon,” the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) announced on Wednesday, November 22, after the arrival of hundreds of thousands of doses in Cameroon

Malaria: Large-scale vaccination in Africa 'will begin soon', says Gavi

Vaccination against malaria in the most at-risk areas of the African continent “will begin soon,” the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) announced on Wednesday, November 22, after the arrival of hundreds of thousands of doses in Cameroon.

“The arrival last night at Yaoundé airport, Cameroon, of 331,200 doses of the RTS,S vaccine, the first anti-malaria vaccine recommended by the WHO, marks the start of deliveries to countries that had not participated in the vaccination pilot program,” the Geneva-based organization said in a statement. This delivery represents a “historic step towards larger-scale vaccination against one of the deadliest diseases among African children,” she adds.

Caused by a parasite transmitted by certain types of mosquitoes, malaria remains a formidable scourge due in particular to increasing resistance to treatments. In 2021, there were 247 million cases worldwide and 619,000 patients died. This disease mainly affects the African continent, which in 2021 accounted for some 95% of global cases and 96% of deaths.

According to Gavi, several countries are now in the final stages of preparing to introduce the malaria vaccine into their routine immunization programs and the first doses are expected to be administered in the first quarter of 2024. “This could be a watershed in our fight against malaria,” UNICEF Director General Catherine Russell commented in a statement, comparing the introduction of the vaccine to “the best player entering the field.”

A second vaccine in “prequalification”

Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger and Sierra Leone are expected to receive 1.7 million doses of the RTS,S vaccine in the coming weeks. Other African countries are also expected to receive them in the coming months. These deliveries mark the end of the pilot phase of malaria vaccination, coordinated by the World Health Organization and funded by Gavi, the Global Fund and Unitaid. The doses were donated by GSK, the manufacturer of the RTS,S vaccine.

In this context, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have been able to administer the vaccine in certain districts since 2019, according to a four-dose schedule which begins around 5 months of age. More than 2 million children have been vaccinated in these three African countries, leading to a “dramatic decline” in mortality, according to Gavi, as well as a substantial reduction in severe forms of malaria and hospitalizations.

The WHO recently recommended a second vaccine for children against malaria, R21, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII). It is still undergoing further review by the WHO for “prequalification” so that UNICEF and Gavi can use it in their programs.