SWITZERLAND – The WHO has approved the RTS,S vaccine, for widespread use among Sub-Saharan African children and other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission rates, but now, the international agency has expressed that overcoming distribution hurdles will be critical to the vaccine’s success.
Moving forward, WHO has warned that the rapid deployment of the malaria vaccine will be dependent on how quickly countries adopt the treatment and their availability of resources to support its rollout.
The novel vaccine offers effective protection against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadly and widespread malaria transmission parasite.
GSK, the industry-leading pharmaceutical company that developed the vaccine issued a statement pledging to make 15 million yearly doses available at a price slightly higher than the cost of production.
However, if all children in high-burden countries are to receive the shots, approximately 100 million doses will be required each year.
Simon Kariuki, the chief research officer at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, who was involved in the first trials of the malaria vaccine, said: “Researchers have done their part. It is now upon governments to quickly review their malaria control programmes to adopt the vaccine.”
Against the background of this knowledge, the UN-based organization has urged countries to enter into negotiations with it to ensure immediate access to the vaccine.
In addition to determining how to access and deploy the vaccine, countries must determine how much it will cost to purchase and distribute it — and whether donors will contribute to the cost.
At a potential cost of about US$5 per dose, researchers estimate that the vaccine rollout, including distribution, would cost around US$325 million per year across ten African countries with high malaria incidence.
They point out that other malaria measures have failed in some of these countries due to a lack of support.
“It’s a golden opportunity for countries to have this vaccine as mosquitoes are increasingly becoming insecticide-resistant and could render bed nets ineffective, leading to a rise in malaria cases.” Kariuki said.
“Countries such as Kenya have the capacity to store the vaccines and could easily scale up their distribution. Uptake in the pilot countries was promising, and I expect no challenges administering the requisite number of doses more broadly” he added.
The most recent World Malaria Report reveals that there were 229 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2019, with the African region accounting for 94 percent of all cases and deaths.
According to UNICEF estimates, a child under the age of five dies from the deadly disease every two minutes.
Malaria is responsible for an estimated 260,000 deaths in African children under the age of five each year, according to the WHO.