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WHO endorses new malaria vaccine for African infants


A shipment of the newest malaria vaccine, R21, is unloaded at the airport in Bangui On 24 May 2024. [UNICEF]

A new malaria vaccine, R21, promises to bolster the fight against the disease in infants across Africa.

 The vaccine has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) and will be included in the routine immunisation schedules of partner countries.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in partnership with the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, has commenced the distribution of the vaccine.

The first batch of 43,000 R21 doses arrived in the Central African Republic on May 24, with an additional 120,000 doses ready for dispatch.

“Having two safe and effective vaccines means we have greater supply security and can be more confident about meeting countries’ needs,” said Gavi Chief Executive Officer Dr Sania Nishtar.

Director of Supply Division at UNICEF, Leila Pakkala, expressed her optimism regarding the impact of the new vaccine.

“Previous concerns about supply meeting demand are firmly behind us. Now our priority is for the vaccines to reach every child at risk,” she said.

The R21 vaccine will be administered alongside the existing RTS, S vaccine, which has been distributed to children in Kenya, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, and Sierra Leone following a successful four-year pilot.

To date, Gavi has supplied over 4.3 million doses of RTS, S.

The introduction of R21 is expected to enhance the prevention and protection against malaria, a leading cause of death among African infants.

Nearly half a million children in the continent succumb to the disease each year.

UNICEF, Gavi, and WHO have assured that the new vaccine will be delivered to governments upon request, contingent on their commitment to include it in their immunisation programmes.

These organisations will also support the governments in implementing vaccination plans, training healthcare workers, raising community awareness, and ensuring access to appropriate vaccine storage facilities.

Countries set to receive the R21 vaccine shipments include Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Uganda.

The health bodies are dedicated to ensuring that the vaccines reach every child at risk in these regions.

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