By Gift Briton

Following a limited supply of available malaria vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended a new vaccine (R21) to enhance the protection of children in areas where malaria is a public health risk.

According to the organization, nearly half a million children die from malaria each year in the African region alone. However, demand for the available vaccines exceeds supply.

“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,” Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said during the organization’s biannual meeting held in September.

“Demand for the RTS,S vaccine far exceeds supply, so 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.”

The R21 vaccine is the second malaria vaccine recommended by WHO, following the RTS,S vaccine, which received a WHO recommendation in 2021.

Both vaccines, according to WHO, are safe and effective in preventing malaria in children and, when implemented broadly, are expected to have a high public health impact.

Furthermore, the addition of R21 to the list of WHO-recommended malaria vaccine is expected to result in sufficient vaccine supply to benefit all children at risk of getting malaria.

“This second vaccine holds real potential to close the huge demand-and-supply gap. Delivered to scale and rolled out widely, 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,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said.

The R21 vaccine clinical trial showed that it reduced symptomatic cases of malaria by 75% and 66% efficacy during the 12 months following the first 3 doses. A fourth dose a year after the third maintained efficacy.

Also, the vaccine is cost-effective (US$ 2 – US$ 4 per dose), with the public health impact of the R21 vaccine expected to be high in a wide range of malaria transmission settings, including low transmission settings.

At least 28 countries in Africa plan to introduce a WHO-recommended malaria vaccine as part of their national immunization programmes. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has approved providing technical and financial support to roll out malaria vaccines to 18 countries.

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.