Signaling a shift from the pilot phase of malaria vaccine use in Africa to routine use, the World Health Organization (WHO) today said a shipment of the first WHO-recommended vaccine RTS,S began arriving in Cameroon, which hadn't been previously involved in pilot programs.
Cameroon is set to receive 331,200 doses of RTS,S, which has been in the making for more than 30 years. Immunization efforts first launched in Malawi in 2019 as part of a pilot program that also included Ghana and Kenya. Africa is the world's hardest-hit malaria region, accounting for most of the world's illnesses and deaths.
Four nations to get 1.7 million doses
The WHO said several African countries are finalizing their malaria vaccine rollout plans, with 1.7 million more doses that will be delivered in the coming weeks to Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, and Sierra Leone. Other African nations will receive doses in the months ahead, with support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Immunization, as part of routine vaccination, is projected to begin in the first quarter of 2024.
Catherine Russell, executive director of UNICEF, said in the WHO statement that the wider launch of RTS,S produced by GSK, is a real game-changer in the fight against malaria. "Introducing vaccines is like adding a star player to the pitch. With this long-anticipated step, spearheaded by African leaders, we are entering a new era in immunization and malaria control, hopefully saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children every year," she said.
The WHO recently recommended a second malaria vaccine, R21, that the agency is currently reviewing for prequalification, a step that paves the way for wider distribution and use. R21 was developed by Oxford University and is made by the Serum Institute of India.