In a groundbreaking move, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a strong recommendation for a new malaria vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, aimed at safeguarding the health of children around the world.
This pivotal decision comes following extensive consultations with experts and was officially endorsed by WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, during the organization’s biannual meeting held from September 25 to 29.
This critical announcement was made by the global health body on Monday, emphasizing the urgency of the matter. Notably, Nigeria became the second nation to grant approval for the R21 malaria vaccine, following Ghana’s lead.
Developed by the University of Oxford and manufactured on a larger scale by the Serum Institute of India, the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine marks only the second ever created to tackle this relentless disease that has plagued humanity for millennia.
In addition to the malaria vaccine recommendation, WHO issued guidance on new vaccines for dengue and meningitis, as well as vital insights into immunization schedules and product recommendations for COVID-19.
The R21 vaccine now stands alongside the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine, which gained WHO approval in 2021. Both vaccines have demonstrated safety and efficacy in preventing malaria in children, offering hope for high public health impact once widely implemented.
Malaria, transmitted through mosquito bites, poses a particularly grave threat to children in the African Region, where nearly half a million children succumb to the disease each year.
The demand for malaria vaccines has reached unprecedented levels, but the supply of RTS,S/AS01 vaccine remains limited. In response, 12 African countries were allocated 18 million doses for the period of 2023–2025.
The inclusion of R21 in WHO’s recommendations is expected to bridge the gap in vaccine supply, benefiting all children in malaria-prone areas.
Dr. Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, expressed his enthusiasm, saying, “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.
” Demand for the RTS,S vaccine far exceeds supply, so this second vaccine is a vital additional tool to protect more children faster and bring us closer to our vision of a malaria-free future.”
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, underscored the significance of this recommendation for the continent, stating, “This second vaccine holds real potential to close the huge demand-and-supply gap.
“Delivered at scale and widely rolled out, the two vaccines can bolster malaria prevention and control efforts, saving hundreds of thousands of young lives in Africa.”
“At least 28 African countries are planning to introduce WHO-recommended malaria vaccines into their national immunization programs, with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, providing technical and financial support to bring this lifesaving intervention to 18 nations.
“WHO anticipates that the RTS,S vaccine will be introduced in select African countries in early 2024, while the R21 malaria vaccine is set to become available to countries in mid-2024.
“Despite considerable progress, Nigeria still bears approximately 27 percent of the global burden of malaria cases.
“Moeti highlighted the challenges, including population size, surveillance systems, funding gaps, and health-seeking behavior, that continue to contribute to Nigeria’s malaria burden.
“However, the approval of these vaccines provides a glimmer of hope for the nation and the world in the fight against malaria.”
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