WHO Endorses World’s First Malaria Vaccine
By Adedapo Adesanya
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday endorsed the first-ever vaccine for malaria after many years of waiting.
This has been regarded as a historical event as the drug would save the lives of tens of thousands of children lost to the disease in Africa each year.
Malaria is among the oldest known and deadliest of infectious diseases with data showing that it kills about half a million people each year, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa — among them 260,000 children under age 5.
Called Mosquirix, the new malaria vaccine is given in three doses between ages 5 and 17 months, and a fourth dose roughly 18 months later.
Following the clinical trials, the vaccine was tried out in three countries — Kenya, Malawi and Ghana — where it was incorporated into routine immunization programs.
More than 2.3 million doses have been administered in those countries, reaching more than 800,000 children. That bumped up the percentage of children protected against malaria in some way to more than 90 per cent from less than 70 per cent
The new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, rouses a child’s immune system to thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa.
The vaccine is not just a first for malaria — it is the first developed for any parasitic disease.
Speaking on the feat, Dr Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO’s global malaria programme said, “To have a malaria vaccine that is safe, moderately effective and ready for distribution is a historical event.”
For more than 100 years, malaria research has had various vaccine candidates that never made it past clinical trials but the results with Mosquirix makes it the outlier.
This is set to replace bed nets which are considered the most widespread preventive measure as it cuts malaria deaths in children under age 5 by about 20 per cent.
Against that backdrop, the new vaccine, even with modest efficacy, is the best new development in the fight against the disease in decades, some experts said.
This week, a working group of independent experts in malaria, child health epidemiology and statistics, as well as the WHO’s vaccine advisory group, met to review data from the pilot programmes and make their formal recommendation to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the global health body.
The next step is for Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, to determine that the vaccine is a worthwhile investment. If the organization’s board approves the vaccine, it will purchase the vaccine for countries that request it, a process that is expected to take at least a year.