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Africa Awaits Affordable Malaria Vaccine Hailed as a ‘Triumph for Science’

Malaria Vaccine

Posted: May 18, 2024 at 4:22 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

New vaccine holds promise in combating malaria epidemic, global health officials say 

A new affordable malaria vaccine is poised to reach even more people in African countries, a significant step forward in the fight against one of the continent’s deadliest diseases. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mosquito-borne malaria kills more than 600,000 per year, 95 percent of them in Africa. 

The disease is more fatal among young children, and nearly half a million African children under the age of five die each year. Pregnant women and those with low immunity are also at significant risk. 

Demand for malaria vaccines is unprecedented; however, available supply is limited. This has dramatically impacted those who live in areas where malaria is a public health risk. 

However, change is on the way. 

Spokesman: Uganda and Nigeria Will Get First Doses of Vaccine In Late 2024

The Serum Institute of India (SII) recently announced plans to ship 25 million doses of the new vaccine, R21, developed with Oxford University researchers, as early as May. 

A UNICEF spokesperson told AFP that Chad, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Mozambique, and South Sudan will be the first five countries to receive R21 doses.

“Uganda and Nigeria are planning to introduce it later in the year,” the spokesperson added.

The R21 vaccine, a three-dose course and booster shot for children aged 5-36 months is the second malaria shot approved by the WHO. 

The rollout of this Malaria vaccine marks a pivotal moment in global health efforts, with the potential to significantly reduce the burden of malaria-related illnesses and deaths.

“In terms of importance and saving lives… it’s going to be a hugely impactful vaccine, SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla told AFP. “We’ve offered these vaccines to the African continent at $4 or less in the first year itself. And then, as we scale up, maybe we can bring that down a little bit further.”

Malaria Release Is A ‘Triumph For Science’ 

The process behind developing and distributing this vaccine has been a collaborative effort involving pharmaceutical companies, research institutions, and global health organizations. 

“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,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Demand for the RTS, S vaccine far exceeds supply, so this second vaccine is a vital additional tool to protect more children faster and to bring us closer to our vision of a malaria-free future.”

Clinical trials have demonstrated the vaccine’s efficacy in providing substantial protection against malaria, offering new hope in the fight against the disease.

In a press release, Poonawalla said, “Today’s approval marks a triumph for science, collaboration, and our shared vision for a malaria-free world. This achievement inspires us to dream bigger, work harder, and strive toward a future where we can offer better solutions for the millions burdened by this disease. Together with Oxford, we envision a world where every individual, regardless of their circumstances, has access to the protection they deserve.”

For several years, the Serum Institute of India (SII) has held the title of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. However, its prominence soared notably during the pandemic’s peak when it mass-produced millions of affordable COVID-19 vaccine doses for global distribution.

Researchers Are Trying To Get Ahead of Malaria Season

Malaria season in Africa typically coincides with the rainy season, as the increased rainfall creates ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes, which transmit the disease. The timing and duration of the rainy season, and thus the malaria season, can vary significantly across different regions of Africa:

  1. West Africa: The rainy season generally occurs from June to October, making this period the peak malaria season.
  2. East Africa: The rainy season can have two peaks, one from March to May (long rains) and another from October to December (short rains).
  3. Central Africa: The rainy season can last from April to November, with malaria transmission often peaking during this period.
  4. Southern Africa: The rainy season typically runs from November to April, which is also the time of the highest risk for malaria transmission.

According to Poonawalla, the institute aims to introduce the R21 vaccine in select countries ahead of the impending malaria season, which they estimate is approximately six to seven months away. 

“Our primary objective is to immunize those most susceptible to the disease. That’s our focus,” Poonawalla emphasized, projecting an annual production capacity of 100 million doses of R21.

Umesh Shaligram, the research and development director at SII, disclosed that the vaccines are scheduled for shipment by the end of April, with deployment slated to commence in May and June.

The vaccines will mostly be bought and distributed through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Gavi, a global vaccine alliance. 

UN Gives Support To The Malaria Vaccine

The United Nations (UN) has also voiced its support for the rollout of the new vaccine, emphasizing the importance of equitable access to life-saving interventions. 

Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the need for sustained investment in malaria control programs and urged governments and donors to prioritize efforts to reach the most vulnerable populations.

Malaria is a regular item on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly. The UN General Assembly adopts a resolution each year on “Consolidating gains and accelerating efforts to control and eliminate malaria in developing countries, particularly in Africa, by 2030.”

There’s promising hope elsewhere in the world against malaria. In February 2021, El Salvador became the first country in Central America to be awarded a certification of malaria elimination by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The certification followed more than 50 years of commitment by the Salvadoran government and people to ending the disease in a country with a dense population and geography hospitable to malaria.

“Malaria has afflicted humankind for millennia, but countries like El Salvador are living proof and inspiration for all countries that we can dare to dream of a malaria-free future,” said Dr.Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

The process behind developing and distributing the R21 vaccine has been a collaborative effort involving pharmaceutical companies, research institutions, and global health organizations. 

Clinical trials have demonstrated the vaccine’s efficacy in providing substantial protection against malaria, offering new hope in the fight against the disease.

The deployment of the malaria vaccine will involve a coordinated effort among governments, health agencies, and local communities across Africa. 

The Rollout of Malaria Vaccine Has Many Moving Parts 

Regions with the highest malaria burden will receive priority, ensuring the most at risk can access the vaccine. Education and awareness campaigns will accompany the rollout to ensure communities understand the importance of vaccination and how it fits into broader malaria prevention and control strategies. 

Health workers will also receive training to administer the vaccine effectively and monitor its impact on reducing malaria cases.

While introducing the new vaccine represents a significant milestone, health experts caution that it is not a panacea for malaria control. Continued investment in other preventive measures, such as bed nets, insecticide spraying, and prompt diagnosis and treatment, will remain essential in the ongoing fight against malaria.

As the vaccine begins its rollout across Africa, hopes are high that it will mark a turning point in the battle against malaria, bringing the world one step closer to achieving the ambitious goal of malaria elimination.

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