Uganda’s Ministry of Health is considering the use of a new malaria vaccine for children’s immunization. The vaccine, called R21/Matrix-M, recently received approval from the World Health Organization (WHO). This development follows the WHO’s endorsement of the vaccine as part of global efforts to combat malaria, a disease responsible for a significant number of deaths worldwide, with sub-Saharan African countries, including Uganda, being particularly affected.
The R21/Matrix-M, developed by the University of Oxford in the UK and produced by the Serum Institute of India, becomes the world’s second malaria vaccine, with the first being the RTS,S/AS01, approved for immunization in 2021. The R21/Matrix-M has demonstrated high efficacy when administered just before the start of the high transmission season, reducing symptomatic malaria cases by 75 percent in areas with highly seasonal malaria transmission. It also offers a cost-effective solution, priced between $2 and $4 per dose, compared to the RTS,S, which costs about $10 per dose.
Malaria is a leading cause of hospital admissions and deaths in Uganda, claiming the lives of 16 Ugandans daily. It also imposes a significant economic burden, costing an estimated annual loss of $500 million due to treatment expenses and work time absences.
While the government had received 800,000 doses of the RTS,S/AS01 free of charge, the new vaccine presents an opportunity to cover all eligible children, although funding for it remains uncertain. Uganda’s National Independent Technical Advisory Group will evaluate scientific evidence, cost, and availability to determine which vaccine to prioritize.
Both the RTS,S/AS01 and R21/Matrix-M vaccines work by alerting the body’s immune system to the malaria parasite at an early stage in its life cycle, preventing its proliferation. While the two vaccines have not been directly compared in a head-to-head trial, they offer potential solutions to combat malaria effectively. The choice of vaccine will depend on programmatic considerations, vaccine supply, and affordability.