The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa, and other regions with moderate to high Plasmodium falciparum (P. falciparum) malaria transmission. The recommendation is based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019.
The WHO have reported a number of key findings, listed below, from their pilot project.
- The vaccine introduction is feasible, improves health and saves lives, with good and equitable coverage of RTS,S seen through routine immunisation systems. This has occurred even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- RTS,S has increased equity in access to malaria prevention, with data from the pilot programme showing that more than two-thirds of children in the three pilot programme countries, who do not sleep under a bednet, have benefitted from the RTS,S vaccine.
- To date, more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in three African countries, with a favourable safety profile.
- In areas where the vaccine has been introduced, there has been no decrease in the use of insecticide-treated nets, uptake of other childhood vaccinations, or health seeking behaviour for febrile illness.
- A reduction of 30% in deadly severe malaria, even when introduced in areas where insecticide-treated nets are widely used and there is good access to diagnosis and treatment.
- Modelling estimates that the vaccine is cost-effective in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission.
The WHO report that next steps will include funding decisions from the global health community for broader rollout, and country decision-making on whether to adopt the vaccine as part of national malaria control strategies.
Source: WHO, 6 October 2021