Two years after the launch of a pilot program, more than 1.7 million doses of the world’s first malaria vaccine have been administered in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, benefiting more than 650,000 children with additional protection against malaria.
The number of children affected during this relatively short period indicates strong community demand for the vaccine as well as the ability of country child immunization programs to deliver the vaccine on a new schedule (4 doses up to approximately 2 years of age). ).
At a time when global progress in malaria control has stalled, the protection provided by the RTS, S malaria vaccine, added to currently recommended malaria control interventions, has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives. per year.
“Ghana, Kenya and Malawi show that existing childhood immunization platforms can effectively deliver malaria vaccine to children, some of whom have not been able to access an insecticide-treated bed net or other control measures. prevention of malaria, ”says Dr Kate O‘Brien, WHO. Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. “This vaccine may be essential in making malaria prevention more equitable and in saving more lives.”
“Over the past two decades, we have achieved remarkable results with existing malaria control tools, preventing more than 7 million deaths and 1.5 billion cases of the disease,” says Dr Pedro Alonso, program director WHO Global Malaria Control Program. “However, progress towards the key goals of our global malaria strategy is still not on track. To get back on track, new tools are urgently needed – and malaria vaccines must be an essential part of the entire toolbox. “
The information generated by the pilot implementation will inform a WHO recommendation on wider use of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa. The global advisory bodies for immunization and malaria are expected to meet in October 2021 to review RTS, S data and consider whether to recommend wider use of the vaccine.
“In some ways, malaria is the child health emergency of a lifetime – or many lifes – in Africa. We commend the work of participating countries which has resulted in malaria vaccine pilot projects with high immunization coverage that will enrich our understanding of the potential of the RTS, S vaccine to improve children’s health and strengthen malaria control – and, potentially, reverse trends, ”says Dr Akpaka Kalu, team leader for tropical and vector-borne diseases in the WHO African Region.
Meanwhile, the most recent World malaria report found that over the past four years, progress in reducing malaria has plateaued. In 2019, there were approximately 229 million episodes of malaria and 400,000 deaths from the disease. Over 90% of malaria deaths occur in Africa, the majority – over 265,000 – in young children.
RTS, S is the first and, to date, the only vaccine shown to reduce malaria in children, including severe and life-threatening malaria, associated hospitalizations and the need for blood transfusions. The vaccine is currently being tested in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission where malaria can account for up to 60% of children’s outpatient visits to health facilities.
The malaria vaccine implementation program supports the country-led introduction of the RTS, S vaccine in childhood immunization; and, separately, assessing how best to reach children with the recommended four-dose schedule, the impact on severe malaria and lives saved, and the safety of vaccines when used routinely.
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