Cameroon has become the first country globally to launch a routine malaria vaccine programme.
The vaccine is expected to protect children against the mosquito-borne disease with projections putting the potential lives it can save across Africa at tens of thousands of children’s lives per year.
The World Health Organization (WHO)-approved RTS,S vaccine developed by British drugmaker GSK took around 40 years to develop.
It is meant to work alongside existing tools such as bed nets to combat malaria, which in Africa kills nearly half a million children under the age of five each year.
Trials of the vaccine took place successfully in Ghana and Kenya but Cameroon is now the first country to administer the doses through a routine immunisation programme.
According to global vaccine alliance Gavi, 19 other countries aim to roll out the routine vaccination against Malaria this year.
Around 6.6 million children in these 19 countries are being targeted for malaria vaccination through 2024-25.
“For a long time, we have been waiting for a day like this,” said Mohammed Abdulaziz of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at a joint online briefing with the WHO, Gavi and other organisations.
In all more than 30 countries in Africa want to introduce the vaccine. There were fears of a supply challenge but that has eased after a second vaccine completed a key regulatory step in December.
WHO’s director of immunization, Kate O’Brien told reporters that once the second vaccine comes in it “is expected to result in sufficient vaccine supply to meet the high demand and reach millions more children.”
This R21 vaccine, developed by University of Oxford, could be launched in May or June, Gavi’s Chief Programme Officer Aurelia Nguyen said.