By Mary Hearty

Despite areas receiving the world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS, S, reporting a dramatic reduction in the number of cases and hospitalizations from the disease, particularly among children, it is not a silver bullet. It serves as an additional and complementary prevention tool.

Experts said during a Nairobi meeting to launch the expansion of malaria vaccine in lake-endemic regions of Kenya.

“Over the past three years, we’ve seen a dramatic reduction in the number of cases and hospitalizations from malaria in areas where the vaccine has been administered. We are excited to now be able to offer this additional malaria tool to more of our children,” Dr. Andrew Mulwa, Director of Medical Health Services said.

Speaking on behalf of Dr. Patrick Amoth, Director General of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Mulwa stated that the drastic reduction in malaria prevalence is likely attributed to the integrated malaria prevention strategies including the utilization of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying where available, prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Sharing similar sentiments, Scott Gordon, Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP) Project Director at PATH, said though the malaria vaccine has been estimated to save one child’s life for every 200 children vaccinated, when implemented together with other recommended malaria interventions, it reduces the number of children that become sick with malaria, hospitalized, requiring blood transfusions, and die from the disease.

Dr. Sam Akech, a pediatrician and research scientist during the fourth Kenya National Malaria Forum held on 15-16th February, 2023, also emphasized that people still need to continue with other malaria preventive measures.

“The vaccine is not a magic bullet in the fight against malaria it only gives partial protection. The children still need to sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets, and when they feel sick they still need to get tested for the disease and be given antimalarial drugs,” he explained.

RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is a vaccine that acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite globally and the most prevalent in Africa.

The vaccine significantly reduces malaria and life-threatening severe malaria in young African children. In January 2016, the vaccine was recommended by WHO for pilot introduction in selected areas of three African countries: Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.