In a collaboration between Gavi, UNICEF, and WHO, 12 countries across different regions in Africa are expected to receive a total of 18 million doses of the first-ever malaria vaccine over 2 years. In accordance with WHO’s Framework the allocations have been prioritised for areas of highest need. The vaccine has already been administered to 1.7 million children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi since 2019. It has been proven safe and effective and has caused a reduction in cases of severe malaria and child deaths.  

12 countries selected 

Alongside Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, the dose allocation will extend to nine more countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. They will introduce the vaccine into their routine immunisation programmes, with first doses expected in late 2023.  

Malaria continues to kill almost half a million children under the age of 5 every year. It is one of Africa’s deadliest diseases. UNICEF’s Associate Director of Immunisation, Dr Ephrem T Lemango suggested that a child dies almost every minute.  

“For a long time, these deaths have been preventable and treatable, but the roll-out of this vaccine will give children, especially in Africa, an even better chance at surviving.” 

Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programmes Delivery at Gavi, agrees.  

“This vaccine has the potential to be very impactful in the fight against malaria, and when broadly deployed alongside other interventions, it can prevent tens of thousands of future deaths every year.” 

Although Gavi is working with manufacturers to “ramp up supply”, Mr Maphosa warned that we must “make sure that the doses that we do have are used as effectively as possible”.  

A breakthrough 

Dr Kate O’Brien, WHO Director of Immunisation, Vaccines, and Biologicals, described the vaccine as a “breakthrough” for child health and survival. She emphasised that the allocation of doses has been prioritised for “children at highest risk of dying of malaria”.  

“The high demand for the vaccine and the strong reach of childhood immunisation will increase equity in access to malaria prevention and save many young lives. We will work tirelessly to increase supply until all children at risk have access.”  

This high demand is globally estimated to reach 40-60 million doses annually by 2026. Hopefully, a second vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, will achieve WHO prequalification at some stage to increase options.