Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Malaria Vaccine R21 Shipment to Central African Republic Marks Major Milestone for Child Survival

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Malaria prevention efforts took a significant step forward today as United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) delivered over 43,000 doses of the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine to Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), with more than 120,000 doses expected to follow in the coming days. CAR is the first country to receive the R21 malaria vaccine for routine childhood immunization, marking a significant step forward in preventing malaria and saving children’s lives.

R21 is the second malaria vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for children living in endemic areas. Alongside the earlier recommendation of the RTS,S vaccine, there is now sufficient vaccine supply to scale up malaria vaccination efforts across Africa. The rollout of both vaccines is funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“With two products now available to countries, expanded supply of malaria vaccines is a game changer for child survival and health,” said Leila Pakkala, Director of UNICEF Supply Division. “Previous concerns about supply meeting demand are firmly behind us. Now our priority is for the vaccines to reach every child at risk.”

Both the R21 and RTS,S vaccines are proven to be safe and effective in preventing malaria in children. The RTS,S vaccine was administered to over 2 million children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi during a four-year pilot program, which demonstrated a 13% reduction in all-cause mortality.

Malaria remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases, killing nearly half a million children under five years of age each year in Africa. The Central African Republic has one of the highest malaria incidence rates globally. In 2022, an estimated 1,733,000 malaria cases were reported in the country, averaging about 4,747 cases per day. The disease also claimed around 5,180 lives over the year, equating to 14 deaths each day.


Malaria Vaccines: Dual Availability Enhances Supply Security and Saves Lives, Says Gavi CEO

Dr. Sania Nishtar, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, emphasized the importance of having two safe and effective vaccines, saying, “Having two safe and effective vaccines means we have greater supply security and can be more confident about meeting countries’ needs. That is what matters most – that countries where our vaccines can be most impactful are able to access them, saving thousands of lives each year and offering relief to families, communities, and entire health systems.”

The Central African Republic, along with Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Uganda, are preparing to receive R21 shipments. To date, around 4.33 million doses of RTS,S have been delivered to eight countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, and Sierra Leone – which are incorporating the vaccine into their routine child immunization programs as part of national malaria control plans. Burundi and Niger are next in line to receive RTS,S shipments.

Vaccine deliveries to countries funded through the Vaccine Alliance depend on government requests and readiness to include the vaccine in routine immunization programs. Gavi, UNICEF, WHO, and partners are supporting governments in their preparation to receive and introduce the vaccines. This support includes developing vaccine implementation plans, communication strategies, conducting health worker training, community engagement, and ensuring sufficient cold chain capacity.

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“Malaria vaccines, introduced as part of the tools available in comprehensive national malaria control plans, will substantially reduce early childhood deaths and can help revitalize the fight against malaria,” said Dr. Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. “With the R21 vaccine now joining the RTS,S vaccine for use in country immunization programs, the scale-up of malaria vaccination across parts of Africa, where malaria remains a major cause of childhood death, will continue. The high community demand for malaria vaccines also provides an opportunity for children to receive other childhood vaccines that may be due, resulting in even more lives saved.”

Malaria vaccines are an important addition to the fight against the disease. Careful planning is essential to ensure the successful introduction of the malaria vaccines and to combine them with other interventions, including insecticide-treated bed nets, targeted indoor residual spraying, chemoprevention, diagnosis, and prompt treatments, to maximize the impact on public health. The collaborative efforts of international organizations, governments, and communities are crucial in ensuring that these life-saving vaccines reach every child in need.

Resource: World Health Organization, May 24, 2024

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