The pharmaceutical company GSK was awarded a contract for the first supply of a malaria vaccine by UNICEF in 2022. The contract, with a value of up to $170 million, is expected to lead to 18 million doses of a vaccine over the next 3 years.  

According to the WHO, at least 30 countries have “moderate-to-high” areas of malaria transmission. Malaria is one of the “biggest killers of children under 5”. In Africa alone, nearly half a million children died from the disease, with a rate of “one death every minute”.  

The RTS,S malaria vaccine is the world’s first vaccine against a parasitic disease. It acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite and the most common in Africa. Although approved by the EMA in 2015, there were concerns about the efficacy of RTS,S. However, in 2019 a pilot was launched by the WHO in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. The “experience and evidence generated” encouraged the WHO’s recommendation of RTS,S in October 2021.

In December 2021 Gavi elected to provide funding for the malaria vaccine programmes across eligible countries. CEO Seth Barkley reported that the “application window” for funding requests was open, saying “thanks to UNICEF’s procurement” they had “more certainty on supply”. The hope is that “increasing volumes will also lead to more sustainable, lower prices”.  

Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, believes that the vaccine rollout “gives a clear message to malaria vaccine developers to continue their work”. She wants to impress upon them that “malaria vaccines are needed and wanted”. Her intention is that “continued innovation” will “increase available supply” and promote a “healthier vaccine market”.  

“This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria”. 

Dr Kate O’Brien, WHO director of the department of immunisation, vaccines, and biologicals, said that the WHO “welcomes the progress” made through this contract. She reflected that “lives are at stake, every day”, and that securing “supply and timely access” will contribute to wider malaria prevention efforts. The demand for the vaccine will be high among affected countries, warned UNICEF. However, with increasing manufacturing capacity supply will increase over time.   

To hear more about progress in malaria vaccines, come to the World Vaccine Congress in October 2022.