Malaria VaccineIn October 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a vaccine for the prevention of malaria. This malaria vaccine, called the RTS,S, is the first and only the WHO has recommended for malaria prevention.

Devastating Impact

Malaria has a devastating impact on countries where the disease is common. In 2020, there were 241 million malaria cases and 627,000 malaria deaths. In Africa, where 82% of malaria cases occur, 80% of malaria deaths consist of children under 5. In addition to the high death toll, malaria causes an estimated loss of $12 billion every year in lost productivity.

Over the past several decades, improved preventative measures including mosquito nets, antimalarial medications and efforts to reduce mosquito habitats have helped to contribute to a decline in the prevalence of malaria. Since 2015, however, progress in efforts to combat malaria has slowed, according to WHO. Some countries with especially high malaria transmission rates have even experienced an increase in malaria cases. After a slump in progress in recent years, though, the success of the RTS,S vaccine offers a ray of hope.

The Vaccine

Due to the complexity of the parasite that causes malaria, this vaccine took more than 30 years to develop. Research on the RTS,S vaccine began in the 1990s with the first clinical trial on it published in 1997. However, several more decades of trials would pass before researchers proved the vaccine to be safe and effective against malaria in children.

Trials completed in 2015, which followed a schedule of three or four vaccines for children between 5 and 17 months of age, found the RTS,S vaccine to reduce malaria-related hospitalization by 37% in the first four years of vaccination.

Over the course of three years, the pilot program, which included trials in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi vaccinated more than 900,000 children. The pilot program confirmed that the vaccine, while not perfect, reduces the frequency of severe malaria infection and demonstrated that large-scale vaccine distribution is feasible, according to WHO.

Based on the findings of the trials, the WHO expects that vaccinating one child could save the lives of 200 of them, according to its report. The WHO estimates that, if widespread vaccination is achieved, the RTS,S vaccine could save the lives of 40,000 to 80,000 children every year. Following the success of the pilot program, the WHO officially recommended the use of the vaccine for areas with high to moderate malaria transmission in October 2021.

In April 2022, the WHO reached the milestone of having 1 million children in Malawi, Kenya and Ghana who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

A Historic Breakthrough

After several years of stagnation, this malaria vaccine represents what Dr. Mary Hamel, a medical epidemiologist who works on malaria prevention, called “a historic breakthrough.” In addition to being the first vaccine to provide protection against malaria, the RTS,S vaccine is the first vaccine for the parasitic disease, meaning the development of this vaccine represents not only a breakthrough in malaria research but a breakthrough in the world of vaccine development.

Though the vaccine’s efficacy is modest, its success is a major breakthrough in a decades-long fight against a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people every year. As the first WHO-recommended malaria vaccine, this vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year and serve as a stepping stone toward future innovations in the realm of malaria prevention.

– Anna Inghram
Photo: Flickr

RTS,S VaccineA new vaccine known as the RTS,S vaccine is currently being piloted in the African nations of Ghana, Malawi and Kenya.  The RTS,S vaccine has been in development for over 32 years. It is the first malaria vaccine that has been shown to provide young children with partial protection from malaria.

What is Malaria?

Every single year, the malaria virus kills one million people around the world. It is estimated that 300-600 million people suffer from malaria every year. Additionally, 90 percent of malaria cases occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of malaria’s victims are children under the age of five.

According to UNICEF, Malaria kills one child every thirty seconds, which is about 3,000 children every single day. Malaria hinders children’s social development and schooling. Furthermore, malaria is a major cause of poverty. For example, the cost of malaria control and treatment actually slows economic development in Africa by 1.3 percent.

RTS,S Malaria Vaccine Pilots

In clinical trials, the RTS,S vaccine was found to prevent about 4 out of 10 malaria cases. Additionally, it proved to prevent 3 in 10 cases of severe, life-threatening malaria. The malaria vaccine has also been shown to reduce severe malaria anemia by 60 percent. Severe malaria anemia is the most prevalent reason that children die from malaria.

The organizations of Unitaid, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria funded and supported these pilots.


Currently, an estimated 360,000 children are expected to receive the RTS,S vaccine through immunization programs in certain areas of Malawi, Ghana and Kenya. However, the main weakness of the immunization programs is in how they store and transport the vaccines. The effectiveness of a vaccine is dependent on whether it is in a properly-functioning cold chain. This refers to a system of transporting and storing vaccines at the proper temperatures from when they are manufactured to when they are used.

To ensure that vaccines properly fulfill their duty of vaccinating children from malaria, there needs to be an increased focus on the protection and storage of these vaccines in their proper cold chains. It is vital to invest in proper storage equipment and maintenance of that storage equipment. This equipment will retain the vaccine’s efficacy. It is also crucial to invest in roads and infrastructure so the vaccines can be properly transported to those in need.


A technological innovation that has changed and improved the transportation of malaria vaccines is the use of drones. The Rwandan tech firm Zipline has already launched drones that are used to transport medication, vaccines, blood and other essential health care items.

Starting out in Rwanda, the firm has also expanded its lifesaving services into Ghana. The drones fly at 100 kilometers and are able to make deliveries in 30 minutes that otherwise could take five hours by car. The drones also are able to fly through any type of terrain. Therefore, they can easily reach remote villages without requiring any sort of local infrastructure at the scene. ZipLine is able to make up to 500 delivers a day. Thanks to its services, ZipLine has provided 13 million people instant access to urgent, life-saving treatments.

The RTS,S vaccine is an effective vaccine that is vital in protecting young children from malaria. By drastically reducing cases of severe malaria anemia, the RTS,S vaccine is saving lives. To continue saving lives and to further build the efficacy of the vaccine, it is crucial to focus on investing in the proper infrastructure for storage and transportation of the vaccine.

– Nicholas Bykov
Photo: Flickr