The World Health Organisation (WHO) for the first time recommended widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high P falciparum malaria transmission.
The recommendation is based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019, said a WHO report.
"This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control," said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year," he added.
Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually.
In recent years, WHO and its partners have been reporting a stagnation in progress against the deadly disease.
"For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
Based on the advice of two WHO global advisory bodies, one for immunisation and the other for malaria, RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine should be provided in a schedule of 4 doses in children from 5 months of age for the reduction of malaria disease and burden.
Key findings of the pilots informed the recommendation based on data and insights generated from two years of vaccination in child health clinics in the three pilot countries, implemented under the leadership of the Ministries of Health of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
Findings include feasible delivery, extended reach, strong safety profile, high impact in real-life childhood vaccination settings and cost-effectiveness.
According to the WHO report, the next steps for the WHO-recommended malaria vaccine will include funding decisions from the global health community for broader rollout and country decision-making on whether to adopt the vaccine as part of national malaria control strategies.
Financing for the pilot programme has been mobilised through a collaboration among three key global health funding bodies --- Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid.