The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed the widespread use of a vaccine to prevent malaria for the first time in a historic move that could prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of children in Africa each year.
In an announcement on Wednesday, the WHO said it’s recommending widespread use of the Mosquirix (RTS,S/AS01) malaria vaccine in parts of the world with moderate to high risk of malaria transmission. Up to 800,000 children have already received the shot as a part of an ongoing pilot program in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.
“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health, and malaria control,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”
The vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, requires four doses – the first three given a month apart at five, six, and seven months old, as well as a final booster required at around 18 months.
A Phase 3 clinical trial published in 2015 showed the vaccine had prevented approximately four in 10 (39 percent) cases of malaria and about three in 10 (29 percent) cases of severe malaria. The efficacy was, unfortunately, found to drop significantly after one year. Based on this research and others, the WHO said the vaccine can lead to a 30 percent reduction in severe malaria. It was also found to have a strong safety profile.
The statistics on the vaccines’ efficacy have not convinced some it’s worth fully rolling out and many have doubted the feasibility of the four-dose regimen. However, given the number of malaria deaths and the complexity of the disease, the WHO global advisory bodies have found it will be another useless layer of protection needed to quash malaria.
Malaria is the top cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa, killing more than 260,000 kids under the age of five each year.
"For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said in a statement.
“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.”