The World Health Organization has approved a vaccine against malaria saying it should be widely administered to vulnerable African children.

WHO approval of RTS,S – that is sold as “Mosquirix” – marks a major advance against Malaria that kills hundreds of thousands of people annually. The majority of the victims are aged under five.

Earlier in 2019, the world health body launched a large-scale pilot program the vaccine developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline. Since then, 2.3 million doses of Mosquirix have been administered to infants in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. The pilot program was launched after a decade of extensive clinical trials in seven African countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “This long-awaited malaria vaccine is a breakthrough for science. This is a vaccine developed in Africa by African scientists and we’re very proud.”

Referring to the stop-gap anti-malaria measures such as bed nets and spraying, Ghebreyesus said, “Using this vaccine in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

The WHO says that the disease is preventable. Malaria is primarily caused by parasites transmitted to people by the bites of infected mosquitoes. Its symptoms include fever, vomiting, and fatigue.

Malaria bigger threat to Africa than COVID-19

The global health body says that 94 per cent of malaria cases and deaths occur in Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people. To put Malaria in context, it is far more deadly than COVID-19 in Africa. WHO’s data shows that it has killed 386,000 Africans in 2019, while there have been 212,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in the past 18 months.

While Mosquirix’s effectiveness at preventing severe cases of malaria in children currently stands at about 30 per cent, but it is the only approved vaccine. Earlier in 2015, the European Union’s drugs regulator approved it arguing its benefits outweighed the risks.

Earlier in April, researchers said that another Malaria vaccine called R21/Matrix-M has shown up to 77 per cent efficacy in a year-long study involving 450 children in Burkina Faso. The vaccine – developed by scientists at the UK’s University of Oxford – is still in its trial stages, though.

Onto the next challenges

Experts say that the mobilisation of finances for the production and distribution of the vaccine to some of the world’s poorest countries will be the next challenge.

GlaxoSmithKline has announced that it will produce 15 million doses of Mosquirix annually until 2028 with just a 5 per cent margin. The drugmaker has already donated 10 million doses to the WHO pilot programmes.

A WHO global market study has projected that the demand for a malaria vaccine would be 50 to 110 million doses per year by 2030. The projection is based on the assumption that it will be deployed in areas with moderate to high transmission of the disease.

A global public-private partnership the GAVI vaccine alliance plans to consider the possibility to finance the vaccination program in December.

Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals Kate O’Brien said, “As we’ve seen from the COVID vaccine, where there is political will, there is funding available to ensure that vaccines are scaled to the level they are needed.”

Hope of the future

The WHO is hopeful that this latest recommendation will encourage scientists to develop more malaria vaccines.

Elsewhere, Germany’s BioNTech – that collaborated with US giant Pfizer to develop a coronavirus vaccine – has also said that it will use the same breakthrough mRNA technology to begin trials for a malaria vaccine next year.

The story was filed by the News Desk.
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