World’s First Malaria Vaccine to go to African Countries



A doctor with the World Health Organization administers a vaccine to a child at Ewin Polyclinic in Cape Coast, Ghana, on April 30, 2019. In the coming weeks the vaccine will be administered throughout the rest of the country and in Kenya.

Raquel Perry, Reporter

In the coming weeks, about 360,000 children a year in three African countries will receive the world’s first malaria vaccine in an effort to target eliminating one of the world’s deadliest diseases for children.

The test vaccine called RTS, S, also known as Mosquirix, was created by scientists at the British pharmaceutical giantGSK in 1987. It has taken decades to test and develop,  and was supported by numerous organizations including the nonprofit PATH. It was first introduced on April 23 by the government of Malawi in a landmark pilot project that aims at reducing malaria in children through their country’s national immunization programs.

“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. We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there,” WHO’s, World Health Organization, Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release.
Malaria is a parasitic disease transmitted through the bite of female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is one of the world’s largest leading killers. It is both preventable and treatable, but an estimated 435,000 people die of it each year. Children under 5 are at the greatest risk for it, and according to WHO, it claims the life of a child every two minutes and most of these deaths are in Africa. More than 250,000 children die from the disease every year.
“It’s a difficult disease to deal with. The tools we have are modestly effective, but drugs and insecticides wear out; after 10, 20 years, mosquitoes become resistant. There’s a real concern that in 2020s, [cases] are going to jump back up again,” proclaimed Adrian Hill, a professor of human genetics and director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford.
The vaccine will be given in four doses: three doses between 5 months and 9 months of age and the fourth dose around the 2nd birthday.

According to the WHO, clinical trials have shown that 4 in 10 malaria cases were prevented by using RTS,S, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria.

WHO said the vaccine was a “complementary malaria control tool” to be used in addition to bed nets treated with insecticide, spraying indoor areas with insecticides and prompt diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Alena Pance, senior staff scientist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said the vaccine was not “overwhelmingly effective.”

“But it is very important to bear in mind that 40% protection in the most endemic part of the world, Africa, is better than no protection at all. Ultimately, this is the only vaccine that has some efficacy that we currently have and has taken decades to develop. This is in itself good news,” Pance said.

Kenya and Ghana will begin using the vaccine in the coming weeks, with health ministries in these countries deciding where it will be used. The local health departments will decide where the vaccine will be given. “They will focus on areas with moderate-to-high malaria transmission, where the vaccine can have the greatest impact,” said WHO in a statement.

“The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.