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Malaria Vaccine Revolutionizes Health Landscape in Africa

Updated: Mar 8

A scientific breakthrough over 30 years in the making, the first-ever malaria vaccine is being rolled out across Africa, offering new hope in the persistent fight against one of history’s deadliest diseases. With the WHO-approved RTS,S vaccine reaching more countries, let’s explore the latest on this game-changing milestone.

Key Takeaways

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the widespread use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission.

  • Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has allocated 18 million doses of the first-ever malaria vaccine to 12 African countries, including Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.

  • No malaria vaccine is currently available in the United States, where only antimalarial medications are used for prevention.

The Burden of Malaria in Africa and the Need for a Vaccine

Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite, has been a significant public health challenge in Africa for centuries. 

According to a report by UNICEF, the African region accounted for 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of deaths in 2021. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable to malaria, with the disease being a leading cause of childhood mortality on the continent.

RTS,S/AS01: The First-Ever Malaria Vaccine

For decades, researchers have been tirelessly working to develop an effective malaria vaccine that could provide widespread protection against the disease.

In October 2021, the WHO recommended the widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (Mosquirix) malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission. This groundbreaking vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), is the first-ever malaria vaccine to receive global approval for use in children. 

WHO's updated guidance recommends providing the malaria vaccine in a 4-dose schedule to children from around 5 months of age living in malaria-endemic areas, prioritizing regions with moderate and high transmission. A 5th booster dose one year after the 4th dose may also be considered in areas with significant remaining malaria risk. 

The WHO advises countries to prioritize vaccine introduction in moderate and high transmission settings but also consider low transmission areas based on their malaria control strategies, cost-effectiveness, affordability, and programmatic considerations.

18 Million Doses of First-Ever Malaria Vaccine Allocated to 12 African Countries

The rollout of the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine in Africa has been a massive undertaking. As of early 2023, the vaccine has been introduced in several countries in Africa, with plans for further expansion. 

In a significant development, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has announced the allocation of 18 million doses of the first-ever malaria vaccine to 12 countries in Africa, including Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. 

Protecting the Vulnerable: Malaria Vaccines for Pregnant Women

Pregnant women are a vulnerable group at high risk of severe malaria complications. Efforts are underway to develop malaria vaccines that can be administered safely to pregnant women, which could significantly reduce the burden of malaria during pregnancy and improve maternal and child health outcomes in Africa.

Complementary Interventions and the Quest for a Second Vaccine

While the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine represents a significant milestone, experts emphasize the need for a comprehensive approach that combines the vaccine with existing interventions, such as insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, and prompt diagnosis and treatment with antimalarial medications.

Additionally, researchers are actively working on next-generation vaccines, or a potential second vaccine, that could provide higher levels of protection and target multiple parasite species.

Malaria Vaccine Availability in the U.S.

While the fight against malaria has made significant strides with the introduction of vaccines in Africa, the United States has yet to approve a malaria vaccine for its population.

Currently, the only preventive options available in the U.S. are antimalarial medications like atovaquone-proguanil, doxycycline, or mefloquine, which must be taken before, during, and after travel to malaria-endemic regions.

The lack of a licensed malaria vaccine in the U.S. highlights the ongoing need for continued research and development efforts to combat this global health threat.

For U.S. travelers venturing to Africa or malaria-endemic areas, Away Clinic in Arizona offers comprehensive solutions, including access to prescribed antimalarial medications and personalized travel health plans. 

Their experienced professionals in their Chandler, Scottsdale, and Phoenix clinics can provide guidance on malaria prevention measures, vaccine recommendations for other travel-related diseases, and strategies to minimize health risks during international trips.


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