World's First Malaria Vaccine has been Approved
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the widespread use of a malaria vaccine among children in Africa and other areas with a high prevalence of malaria. This is a great success in the long struggle against the deadly disease.
Malaria is a disease caused by parasites that has existed for thousands of years and is transmitted mainly through mosquito bites. It kills more than 400,000 people worldwide each year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260,000 children under the age of 5 die each year from malaria.
The road to an effective malaria vaccine is a long one, with vaccines used so far showing modest efficacy, Live Science reported earlier.
The WHO-approved vaccine - called RTS, S or Mosquirix - has been in development for more than 30 years and works to boost the immune system against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite and the most common in Africa.
It is the first vaccine to conduct large-scale clinical trials and has shown that it can significantly reduce malaria, including life-threatening malaria, in young children in Africa, the WHO said.
It is also the first vaccine developed against any disease caused by a parasite, according to The New York Times.
"This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, children's health and malaria control," Dr Tedros Adhanom Gebreesus, the WHO's director general, said in a statement on Wednesday (October 6th).
"Using this vaccine in addition to existing malaria prevention products can save tens of thousands of young lives each year."
In large-scale clinical trials, the vaccine, developed by the British health company GlaxoSmithKline, prevented about 4 out of 10 cases of malaria - a 39 percent efficacy - over a four-year period in children who received the four doses, the WHO said. The vaccine prevents 3 out of 10 cases - 29% efficacy - of severe malaria.
Following the results of clinical trials, the WHO has recommended that the vaccine be piloted in selected areas in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
Since 2019, more than 800,000 children in these countries have been vaccinated through these programs, according to the WHO.
The vaccine, which is given in four doses to children aged five months, has been shown to be safe and leads to a 30% reduction in fatal cases of malaria, even when distributed in areas where insecticide-treated nets are widely used and where there are good access to treatment.
At present, malaria in high-prevalence areas is mainly controlled by spraying with insecticides once or twice a year or sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
Another study, published in September in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that when children were given an antimalarial drug with the vaccine, the combination reduced severe malaria hospitalization by 70.5% and death by 72.9% compared to anti-malarial drug.
A model study published in November 2020 in the journal PLOS Medicine found that the vaccine could prevent 5.3 million cases and 24,000 deaths in children 5 years of age and younger each year.
If the global vaccine union Gavi determines that the malaria vaccine is indeed a good investment, the organization will buy the vaccines for countries that want it, according to the Times.
Other candidates for the malaria vaccine are currently being tested. One of these vaccines, developed by researchers at the University of Oxford, showed 77% efficacy in early clinical trials - the only malaria vaccine that surpassed the WHO's goal of achieving at least 75% efficacy by 2030, Live Science reports. According to The Guardian, large-scale trials are now beginning with this vaccine.
A second malaria vaccine would be "very useful" in fighting malaria, especially by helping meet the expected high demand, the WHO said.
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