The World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the world’s first malaria vaccine on Wednesday, recommending that it be given to children across Africa in the hopes of resuming halted efforts to combat the parasitic disease’s spread.
Following a meeting at which two of the United Nations’ health agency’s expert advisory panels supported the move, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus termed it “historic.”
“Today’s recommendation provides a ray of hope for the continent, which bears the brunt of the disease’s impact. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa director, added, “We expect many more African youngsters to be protected from malaria and grow up to be healthy adults.”
WHO stated its decision was largely based on the findings of continuing studies in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, which followed over 800,000 children who had received the vaccination since 2019.
The Mosquirix vaccine was developed by GlaxoSmithKline in 1987. While it is the first to be approved, it does face several difficulties: The vaccine is only around 30% effective, needs four doses, and provides protection for for a few months.
Despite this, experts believe the vaccine could have a significant influence on malaria in Africa, which accounts for the majority of the world’s more than 200 million cases and 400,000 fatalities each year.
Julian Rayner, head of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, who was not involved in the WHO decision, remarked, “This represents a big step forward.” “It’s a flawed vaccine, but it’ll save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.”
The vaccine’s effect on the spread of the mosquito-borne disease is still unknown, according to Rayner, but those created for the coronavirus provide a promising example.
“We now have a more nuanced knowledge of how essential vaccines are in saving lives and lowering hospitalizations, even if they don’t directly reduce transmission,” he added.
Because malaria is a parasitic disease spread by mosquitoes, Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, the director of the WHO vaccine group that issued the recommendation, said creating a vaccine against it was extremely tough.
“We’re dealing with really sophisticated organisms,” he explained. “A highly effective vaccination is still a long way off, but we now have a vaccine that can be deployed and is safe.”
According to the WHO, adverse effects were uncommon, but they did occasionally include a fever that could lead to brief convulsions.
The vaccine, according to Sian Clarke, co-director of the Malaria Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, would be a helpful supplement to other anti-malaria techniques that may have outlived their usefulness after decades of usage, such as bed nets and pesticides.
“In certain regions where it gets really hot, kids just sleep outside,” Clarke explained, “so they can’t be protected by a bed net.” “Of course, if they’ve been vaccinated, they’ll still be safe.”
According to Clarke, little progress has been made against malaria in recent years.
“We need something new now if we’re going to reduce the disease load,” she explained.
According to Azra Ghani, chair of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, administering the malaria vaccine to children in Africa might result in a 30% drop in overall infections, with up to 8 million fewer cases and 40,000 fewer fatalities per year.
“A 30% reduction may not seem like much to folks who do not live in malaria-endemic nations. “However, malaria is a major issue for the people who live in those places,” Ghani remarked. “A 30% reduction will save a lot of lives and prevent mothers from bringing their children to health centers, clogging up the system.”
She expressed hope that the WHO guidance would be a “starting step” toward better malaria vaccines. She said that the messenger RNA technology used to manufacture two of the most successful COVID-19 vaccines, those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, could help with efforts to develop a second-generation malaria vaccine.
“We’ve observed substantially greater antibody levels from the mRNA vaccines, and they can also be adapted very fast,” Ghani added, noting that BioNTech recently announced it would start looking into a malaria vaccine. “It’s impossible to determine how this will influence a malaria vaccine, but we do need new choices to combat the disease.”
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