According to the World Health Organization, a malaria vaccination for young children in sub-Saharan Africa and other high-risk areas should be widely distributed in order to re-ignite the battle against the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 400,000 people each year.
More than three decades after scientists at GlaxoSmithKline PLC began researching the vaccine, the WHO’s endorsement a critical step toward attracting more investment in the manufacturing and distribution of the shot has arrived.
The Geneva-based organization has postponed recommending the vaccine because of concerns about its poor effectiveness and the difficulty of deploying it in some of the world’s most vulnerable health systems.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former malaria researcher, said on Wednesday that the vaccine may save tens of thousands of child lives every year if it is widely distributed.
Aside from bed nets, antimalarials, and insecticides, Dr. Tedros said the vaccination will be needed to combat the disease. As a result, malaria fatalities have dropped by around 45 percent since the turn of the century, but progress has slowed recently, particularly in Africa.
Over 95% of malaria fatalities occur on the continent, mostly in children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization. Long-term health consequences for children who survive the illness include development stunting and a compromised immune system.
The vaccine, also known as RTS, S, or Mosquirix, protects against the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of all malaria parasites. Vaccines are being recommended by the WHO for widespread use in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas where Plasmodium falciparum is common, according to Dr. Tedros.
A late-stage clinical study conducted in 2015 found that, over a four-year period, the vaccination protected against 32% of severe episodes of malaria in young children. While other children’s vaccinations, such as those against measles or chickenpox, are more than 90% effective, this one falls considerably below that mark.
At that time, the WHO did not advocate for a broad vaccination campaign. This vaccine will be implemented into regular early childhood vaccination programs in three African nations instead of testing it in the U.S.
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Immunization Experts made its proposal on Wednesday based on the preliminary findings of those pilot projects.
Rose Jalang’o, a public health expert with the Kenyan Ministry of Health who worked on the pilot project, stated that in the eight counties where the shot was made accessible, uptake was quite high.
Mothers are aware of the illness, therefore it’s been simple to implement in Kenya, according to the researcher. “This vaccination was much-anticipated by them.”
Around 80% of Kenya’s eligible 6-month-old infants got the first dose of the vaccination, with 41% still coming in for the fourth shot around their second birthday, according to evidence presented to the WHO. As with previous Kenyan children vaccinations like the measles-rubella two-dose vaccine, the initial uptake and subsequent dosage decrease were both in line.
According to Ashley Birkett, the malaria program director at the Seattle-based PATH Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access, which also helped finance the vaccine, early results from pilot programs appear to confirm the vaccine’s efficacy, with severe cases of malaria flat around 30% among vaccinated children.
In his view, it was still too early to know for sure how many fatalities the vaccination had saved as of yet.