WHO Approves 2nd Malaria Vaccine to Address 'Unprecedented' Demand

The new vaccine will be rolled out in some African countries in early 2024, and will be available in mid-2024 in other countries.
WHO Approves 2nd Malaria Vaccine to Address 'Unprecedented' Demand
A sign outside World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva on Aug. 17, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
Aldgra Fredly
10/3/2023
Updated:
10/3/2023
0:00

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Oct. 2 recommended a new malaria vaccine named the R21/Matrix-M in a bid to increase supply amid the "unprecedented" demand for malaria vaccines.

The R21/Matrix-M, developed by Britain's University of Oxford, is the second malaria vaccine recommended by WHO following the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine (also known as Mosquirix), which the agency endorsed in 2021.

The new vaccine will be rolled out in some African countries in early 2024 and will be available in mid-2024 in other countries. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that doses would cost between $2 and $4.

"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," Mr. Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva on Monday.

"WHO is now reviewing the vaccine for prequalification, which is WHO's stamp of approval and will enable Gavi (a global vaccine alliance) and UNICEF to buy the vaccine from the manufacturers," he added.

The R21 vaccine is being mass-manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, which aims to distribute over 100 million doses per year.

Gavi, an international organization aiming to create equal access to new and underused vaccines, said demand for malaria vaccine has outstripped supply with only 18 million RTS,S doses available until 2025.

"This [new] vaccine, along with the existing RTS,S/AS01 vaccine, will be an effective complement to existing malaria interventions," Gavi's CEO David Marlow said in a press release.

"Once it receives WHO prequalification, it will play a key role in meeting the high demand we are seeing in endemic countries," he added.

 World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on July 3, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on July 3, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

According to WHO, the new three-dose vaccine is 75 percent effective in reducing symptomatic cases of malaria during the 12-month period, with a fourth dose given a year after the third dose to maintain efficacy.

WHO said both R21 and RTS,S vaccines had shown similar efficacy in separate trials, but without a head-to-head trial, no evidence showed whether one performed better.

The agency has left it to countries to decide which product to use based on various factors, including affordability and supply.

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, said it had already produced over 20 million doses in anticipation of WHO's recommendation.

"We will ramp it up as per what the demand requirements are," he said in an interview, according to Reuters.

"We hope that by the end of 2024, there will be zero mismatch of demand and supply, with our supply coming into the system," Mr. Poonawalla added.

Africa Accounts for 95 Percent of Total Malaria Cases

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease. The WHO said there were about 247 million malaria cases and 619,000 deaths globally in 2021. About 95 percent of these cases occurred in Africa, mostly affecting children under the age of five.
 A nurse administers a vaccine to a child at Ewin Polyclinic in Cape Coast on April 30, 2019. (Cristina Aldehuela/AFP via Getty Images)
A nurse administers a vaccine to a child at Ewin Polyclinic in Cape Coast on April 30, 2019. (Cristina Aldehuela/AFP via Getty Images)

Mr. Ghebreyesus said that at least 28 African countries plan to introduce a WHO-recommended malaria vaccine as part of their national immunization programs.

"Since 2000, malaria deaths have fallen by more than half, and we have succeeded in eliminating malaria from many parts of the world. But globally, progress has stalled," he remarked.

According to an Oct. 2 press release, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said the new vaccine “holds real potential to close the huge demand-and-supply gap" in Africa.

"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," she said.

Reuters contributed to this report.