blantyre, malawi - Malawi has launched a nationwide rollout of the newest typhoid vaccine for children under 15.
A two-year study of the vaccine, the first in Africa, found it safe to use and effective in more than 80% of recipients. Health authorities say the vaccine is expected to reduce the threat from a disease that kills close to 20,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa each year.
Typhoid fever is a contagious bacterial infection caused by consuming contaminated foods or drinks. Its symptoms include nausea, fever and abdominal pain, and if left untreated it can be fatal.
Malawi health authorities said the typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV) rollout would be part of a nationwide program expected to start Monday when children will be vaccinated against three other diseases: measles, rubella and polio.
However, some fear the campaign will encounter hesitancy and resistance from people, as was the case with COVID-19 vaccines, which led to the burning of about 20,000 expired doses in Malawi in 2021.
George Jobe, chairperson of the Universal Health Coverage Coalition in Malawi, told VOA that efforts were made to educate people on the importance of the campaign.
'There was training for community health care workers as well as teachers, so that they take messages to community leaders, who would also take messages to their subjects," Jobe said.
Typhoid has long been a health threat in Malawi and across sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 1.2 million cases and 19,000 deaths each year.
In 2018, Malawi became the first country to use TCV to fight typhoid infections in children under clinical trials.
Over 20,000 children from 9 months to 12 years of age took part in a clinical trial in Malawi led by professor Melita Gordon of the University of Liverpool. The trial found the vaccine was safe and was more than 80% effective.
Priyanka Patel, an understudy doctor at the Malawi Liverpool Wellcome program, told VOA that this vaccine can offer protection for at least four years, making it a highly effective and efficient tool for preventing the spread of typhoid.
"Secondly,' Patel said, 'the typhoid conjugate vaccine can be given to children as young as 6 months old, making it easier to reach vulnerable populations. This is in contrast to older vaccines, which were not approved for use in young children."
In Malawi, TCV was expected to be rolled out in 2021, but the effort was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gianfranco Rotigliano, country representative for the U.N. children's agency in Malawi, urged the government to prioritize its immunization campaign in hard-to-reach areas where most of the children are unvaccinated.
'Vaccination is a right, health is a right,' he said. 'So we should definitely look for children who are not vaccinated, because in urban areas most of the children are vaccinated, but there are those who never got even one dose of vaccine."
Government authorities hope the campaign will be a success, following the efforts they have put in place to educate people on the importance of vaccinating children.