The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday approved the widespread use of “RTS,S” malaria vaccine to prevent malaria among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high levels of malaria transmission.
The new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, is approved for use in children as young as five months old and requires up to four doses. It rouses a child’s immune system to thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa.
Malaria is among the oldest known and deadliest infectious diseases. It kills about half a million people each year, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa — among them 260,000 children under age five. A child dies from malaria every two minutes.
The WHO had approved the vaccine after a two-year study of 800,000 individuals in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi to reduce child illness and deaths in areas with moderate and high malaria transmission.
WHO said that the jab has a strong safety profile and is feasible to deliver and that the jab could save tens of thousands of lives a year.
The vaccine, the first developed for any parasitic disease, during clinical trials had an efficacy of about 50 per cent against severe malaria in the first year but dropped close to zero by the fourth year. And the trials did not measure the vaccine’s impact on preventing deaths.
WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement said “This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control. Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”
In his response, WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti declared, “We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use.
“Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults,” Moeti said.
“To date, over 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered across those three countries, and has shown a “favourable safety profile,” officials said.
The locations surveyed since 2019 showed 30 per cent in severe or deadly malaria cases, even in areas of high transmission.
When used alongside other malaria mitigation strategies — like insecticide-treated bednets — the WHO found around 90 per cent of children in the pilot countries were protected by at least one of the two options.