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Routine malaria vaccinations start in Africa

Routine malaria vaccinations start in Africa

In 2024, the fight against malaria in Africa took a significant leap forward with the introduction of malaria vaccines into routine child immunization schedules. Despite this milestone, experts emphasize the importance of continuing other prevention measures such as mosquito bed nets and insecticides to maximize the impact on the disease.

The burden of malaria remains heaviest in Africa, with the vast majority of cases and deaths occurring on the continent, especially among children under five. The World Health Organization (WHO) initiated the Accelerated Malaria Vaccines Introduction and Rollout in Africa initiative, aiming to introduce the Plasmodium falciparum RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) and R21/Matrix-M (R21) vaccines into routine immunization schedules for children over 5 months old in 19 African countries.

Cameroon was the first country to implement the routine vaccination program on January 22, 2024. By February 9, nearly 10,000 children in Cameroon and Burkina Faso had received the RTS,S vaccine. Since the two vaccines, RTS,S and R21, have not been directly compared in head-to-head trials, the choice of vaccine for each country will be based on factors such as supply and affordability, according to WHO.

Experts view the introduction of malaria vaccines as a crucial tool in combating the disease. James G Beeson from the Burnet Institute in Melbourne emphasized their importance in reducing malaria cases among young children, laying the groundwork for future vaccine development aimed at accelerating malaria elimination.

Anders Björkman from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm highlighted the potential of the vaccines to significantly reduce clinical episodes and severe malaria cases for up to three years after primary vaccination. However, he stressed the importance of using the vaccines alongside other preventive measures like bed nets and indoor spraying of insecticides.

Although both vaccines have undergone extensive clinical trials, safety monitoring remains paramount. Olugbenga A Mokuolu from the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital in Nigeria emphasized the need for continuous advocacy for funding vaccine administration and related messaging.

Additionally, ongoing monitoring and analysis of data from routine vaccination programs are essential to assess efficacy and safety. It is hoped that the rollout of malaria vaccines in Africa will not only alleviate the burden of malaria in children but also contribute to the development of more effective and long-lasting vaccines in the future, ultimately aiding efforts towards malaria elimination.

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