The World Health Organization (WHO), has recommended that children in Africa and in other areas with high malaria transmission use a malaria vaccine. This is a major breakthrough in the long-term fight against this deadly disease.
Malaria, a parasite-caused illness, has been around for thousands and years. It is transmitted primarily by mosquito bites. More than 400,000 people are affected each year in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills more than 260,000 children below 5 years old each year.
Live Science reported that the road to a malaria vaccine that works has been difficult. Many vaccines have only shown modest effectiveness. RTS, S or Mosquirix, the WHO-endorsed vaccine, is more than 30 year old and primes the immune system to fight Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite in Africa.
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According to WHO, it is the first vaccine to undergo large-scale clinical trials. It has shown that it can reduce malaria in children as young as five years old in Africa. According to The New York Times, it is also the first vaccine against any parasite-related disease.
This is a historic moment. "This long-awaited vaccine against malaria for children is a breakthrough in science, child health, and malaria control," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (director-general of WHO) said Wednesday, Oct. 6. This vaccine, along with existing tools to prevent malaria, could save the lives of tens of thousands more young people each year.
According to WHO, large-scale clinical trials showed that the vaccine, which was developed by GlaxoSmithKline in the U.K., prevented approximately 4 out 10 malaria cases. The vaccine had a 39% effectiveness over a four year period in children who received four doses. The vaccine was effective in preventing severe malaria in 3 out 10 cases.
The WHO recommended that pilot trials of the vaccine in selected areas of Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi be conducted following the results from the clinical trial.
According to WHO, these programs have vaccinated more than 800,000. The vaccine is administered in four doses starting at five months to children. It has been shown to be safe. This vaccine also led to a 30% decrease in severe malaria deaths, even in areas with high levels of insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
The current method of controlling malaria in high-transmission areas includes spraying homes with insecticide twice a year and sleeping under insecticide-treated nets.
A second study published in September in The New England Journal of Medicine found that children who received an anti-malarial medication along with the vaccine had a 70.5% reduction in severe malaria hospitalizations and a 72.9% decrease in death rates. This was in comparison to just the antimalarial drug. A modeling study published in November 2020 by the journal PLOS Medicine found that vaccines could prevent 24,000 deaths and 5.3 million cases of severe malaria in children aged 5 and under every year.
According to the Times, if the Gavi global vaccine alliance decides that the malaria vaccine makes a good investment it will buy the vaccines for countries who request them.
Others are being tested as potential malaria vaccines. Live Science reported that a vaccine developed by Oxford researchers showed 77% effectiveness in clinical trials. This vaccine is the only one to meet the WHO's target of at least 75% efficacy by 2030. According to The Guardian, large-scale trials for that vaccine are currently underway.
According to WHO, a second malaria vaccine would be "highly useful" in malaria control, particularly if it could help meet the high demand.
Original publication on Live Science