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UNICEF Delivers Malaria Vaccine to Central African Republic, Marking Major Step in Child Immunization Efforts

UNICEF has successfully delivered over 43,000 doses of the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine to Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), with an additional 120,000 doses expected in the coming days. This marks the first delivery of the R21 malaria vaccine for routine childhood immunization, a significant milestone in the fight against malaria and a crucial step in saving children’s lives.

The R21 vaccine is the second malaria vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for children in malaria-endemic areas. Together with the RTS,S vaccine, the availability of the R21 vaccine allows for a substantial scale-up of malaria vaccination across Africa, funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Leila Pakkala, Director of the UNICEF Supply Division, highlighted the importance of this development, stating, “With two products now available to countries, expanded supply of malaria vaccines is a game changer for child survival and health. Previous concerns about supply meeting demand are firmly behind us. Now our priority is for the vaccines to reach every child at risk.”

Both the R21 and RTS,S vaccines have been proven safe and effective in preventing malaria in children. The RTS,S vaccine, in particular, was administered to over 2 million children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi during a four-year pilot program, which demonstrated a 13% reduction in all-cause mortality.

Malaria remains one of the deadliest diseases globally, particularly affecting children under five in Africa. In CAR, malaria incidence rates are among the highest in the world, with an estimated 1,733,000 cases reported in 2022, resulting in around 5,180 deaths.

Dr. Sania Nishtar, CEO of Gavi, emphasized the importance of the dual vaccine availability, stating, “Having two safe and effective vaccines means we have greater supply security and can be more confident about meeting countries’ needs. That is what matters most – that countries where our vaccines can be most impactful are able to access them, saving thousands of lives each year and offering relief to families, communities, and entire health systems.”

In addition to CAR, several other African nations, including Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Uganda, are preparing to receive shipments of the R21 vaccine. So far, 4.33 million doses of the RTS,S vaccine have been delivered to eight countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, and Sierra Leone. Burundi and Niger are next in line for RTS,S shipments.

Vaccine deliveries funded through Gavi depend on government requests and the readiness to integrate the vaccine into routine immunization programs. Gavi, UNICEF, WHO, and other partners are supporting governments in preparing to receive and introduce the vaccines. This includes developing implementation plans and communication strategies, training health workers, engaging communities, and ensuring sufficient cold chain capacity.

Dr. Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, stressed the potential impact of the vaccines, stating, “Malaria vaccines, introduced as part of the tools available in comprehensive national malaria control plans, will substantially reduce early childhood deaths and can help revitalize the fight against malaria. The high community demand for malaria vaccines also provides an opportunity for children to receive other childhood vaccines that may be due, resulting in even more lives saved.”

The introduction of malaria vaccines is a significant addition to existing malaria control measures, such as insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, chemoprevention, and prompt treatment. Careful planning and integration with these interventions are essential to maximize the public health impact and continue the fight against one of the world’s most lethal diseases.

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