The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended widespread use of the world’s first malaria vaccine for children on Wednesday, hailing it as a breakthrough in “science, child health, and malaria control.”
The shot, called RTS,S or Mosquirix malaria vaccine, is being recommended based on the results of a 2019 pilot program in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.
During a press conference on malaria vaccine recommendations, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that using the vaccine in addition to existing malaria prevention tools could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.
He said, “This is a powerful new tool, but like Covid-19 vaccines, it’s not the only tool. Vaccination against malaria does not replace or reduce the need for other measures, including bednets, or seeking care for fever.”
Ghebreyesus added that he longed for the day that the world would have an effective vaccine against this “ancient and terrible disease.”
“Today is that day; a historic day,” he said.
Kate O’Brien, Director of the WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals, noted that the next step will be to raise funds so that the newly recommended vaccine can reach African children.
“That will be the next significant step… Then we’ll be ready to scale doses and make decisions about where and how the vaccine will be most useful ” she said.
RTS,S is developed by GlaxoSmithKline in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. It would be the first licensed human vaccine against a parasitic disease and could help prevent millions of cases of malaria in countries that use it.
The vaccine is also part-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use. Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults.”
Malaria, which is transmitted through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, infects around 200 million people a year and killed an estimated 584,000 in 2013, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
The mosquito-borne disease causes fever, chills, and flu-like illnesses. Without prompt treatment, patients may develop severe complications and die.
According to the UN health agency, children under the age of 5 are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria with more than 80 per cent of malaria deaths.
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