WHO Recommends R21/Matrix-M Vaccine for Malaria Prevention in Updated Immunization Guidelines

In a significant development, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the R21/Matrix-M vaccine for malaria prevention in children. This follows advice from the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG).
Sam Wassmer, Co-Director, Malaria Centre, LSHTM

The R21 vaccine, the second WHO-recommended malaria vaccine, has shown high efficacy, reducing symptomatic malaria cases by 75% in highly seasonal transmission areas. It's cost-effective at prices ranging from US$2 - US$4 per dose and is expected to have a substantial public health impact.

With the demand for malaria vaccines at an all-time high and limited supply of RTS,S, the addition of R21 to the list of recommended vaccines is expected to address the demand-supply gap and protect more children from malaria, especially in the African region.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, expressed his excitement, stating, "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."

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, emphasized the importance of this recommendation for the continent, saying: “This second vaccine holds real potential to close the huge demand-and-supply gap. Delivered to scale and rolled out widely, the two vaccines can help bolster malaria prevention and control efforts and save hundreds of thousands of young lives in Africa from this deadly disease.”

The vaccine showed good efficacy (66%) during the 12 months following the first 3 doses. A fourth dose a year after the third maintained efficacy. 

Sam Wassmer, the Malaria Centre Co-Director at LSHTM spoke on the significant impact of this endorsement by the WHO, saying: “This addition to our arsenal against the malaria parasite is going to be vital in our fight against the disease, and will allow a wider access to vaccine across the African continent”.

The R21 malaria vaccine is set to become available to countries in mid-2024, with at least 28 African countries planning to introduce WHO-recommended malaria vaccines as part of their national immunization programs.The vaccine was endorsed by WHO Director-General, during their biannual meeting held on 25-29 September

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