CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC—The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has successfully delivered over 43,000 doses of the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine by air to Bangui, Central African Republic, with an additional 120,000 doses expected to arrive in the coming days.

This marks a significant milestone as the Central African Republic becomes the first country to receive the R21 malaria vaccine for routine childhood immunization, representing a major advancement in the fight against malaria and in efforts to save children’s lives.

R21 is the second malaria vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for children in endemic areas.

With the previous recommendation of the RTS,S vaccine, there will now be sufficient vaccine supply to expand malaria vaccination throughout Africa, with both vaccines being supported by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Malaria remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases, particularly affecting children under five in Africa, where nearly half a million young lives are lost to the disease each year.

The Central African Republic has one of the world’s highest malaria incidence rates. In 2022, the country recorded an estimated 1,733,000 malaria cases, with an average of 4,747 cases per day, and the disease claimed around 5,180 lives, averaging 14 deaths per day.

Both the R21 and RTS,S vaccines have been proven safe and effective in preventing malaria in children.

The RTS,S vaccine, in particular, has been administered to more than 2 million children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi during a four-year pilot program that demonstrated a 13 percent reduction in all-cause mortality.

In addition to the Central African Republic, countries such as Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Uganda are preparing to receive R21 shipments.

To date, around 4.33 million doses of RTS,S have been delivered to eight countries—Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, and Sierra Leone—as part of their national malaria control plans. Burundi and Niger are next in line for RTS,S shipments.

With vaccine deliveries funded by the Vaccine Alliance contingent on government requests and readiness to incorporate the vaccine into routine immunisation programmes, Gavi, UNICEF, WHO, and partners are actively assisting governments in preparing to receive and introduce the vaccines.

This support includes developing vaccine implementation plans and communication strategies, training health workers, engaging with communities, and ensuring adequate cold chain capacity.

Commenting on the vaccine delivery, Leila Pakkala, Director of the UNICEF Supply Division, stated that having two products available to countries significantly expands the supply of malaria vaccines, which is a game-changer for child survival and health.

 She went on to emphasize that previous concerns about supply meeting demand have been addressed and that the priority now is to ensure the vaccines reach every child at risk.

On her part, Dr. Sania Nishtar, CEO of Gavi, noted that the availability of two safe and effective vaccines enhances supply security and increases confidence in meeting countries’ needs.

She added that access to these vaccines in the most impactful countries could save thousands of lives each year, providing relief to families, communities, and entire health systems.

Reflecting on the vaccine’s impact, Dr. Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals, highlighted that the inclusion of malaria vaccines in comprehensive national malaria control plans can substantially reduce early childhood deaths and revitalize the fight against malaria.

 She also mentioned that the high community demand for malaria vaccines also offers an opportunity for children to receive other childhood vaccines, thereby saving even more lives.

The introduction of malaria vaccines is a crucial addition to the fight against the disease.

Careful planning is essential to ensure their successful implementation, combining them with other interventions such as insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, chemoprevention, diagnosis, and prompt treatment to maximize public health impact.

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