Africa to lead roll-out of first-ever malaria vaccine for children

Grant Boone
April 24, 2019

A Health Surveillance Assistant gives a dose of the Malaria Vaccine into the first recipient on April 23, 2019 at Mitundu Community hospital in Malawi's capital district of Lilongwe on the first day of the Malaria vaccine implementation pilot program in Malawi aiming to immunize 120,000 children aged two years and under to assess the effectiveness of the pilot vaccine and whether the delivery process is feasible.

The vaccine, to be administered to children under two years, will also be introduced in Ghana and Kenya in the coming months.

The immunization requires four doses per child and prevents four in 10 cases of malaria, according to clinical trials.

"We have seen tremendous gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the last 15 years, but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas" said WHO's director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

These sentiments were echoed by Pedro Alonso, director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme, who said: "The fight against malaria is one where we use imperfect tools; only when we combine them can we achieve great impact".

Kayange said, once rolled out, the vaccine has the capacity to prevent one million of the six million malaria cases recorded annually in Malawi, helping prevent 4,000 deaths.

The RTS, S vaccine, the first to give partial protection to children, trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is spread by mosquito bites.

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Malaria remains one of the world's leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes, according to the World Health Organisation. More than 250,000 African children die of the disease every year. The majority of them were children under five in Africa.

RTS, S has been more than three decades in the making, with scientists from drugs company GSK creating it in 1987.

The almost 40% efficacy is not high in comparison with vaccines for other diseases, but the World Health Organization says RTS, S will add to the preventative measures, such as bed nets and insecticides, already being used, AFP news agency reports.

"Nobody is suggesting that this is a magic bullet", said Dr David Schellenberg, scientific adviser to the WHO's Global Malaria Programme, in an interview with the BBC.

"This is the first time that a malaria vaccine has been recommended for phased introduction in several settings in Africa by WHO's top advisory committees for malaria and immunisation".

"It may not sound like much but we're talking about 40% reduction in severe malaria which unfortunately still has high mortality even when you have good access to good treatment", he added. Worldwide, malaria kills 435 000 people a year, a lot of them children.

The WHO had announced the vaccine in 2017.

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