The world has made the first step into conquering malaria asthe World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved the first malaria vaccine for wider rollout.
The jab will begin its journey in Africa, with experts hoping that the vaccine could save the lives of tens of thousands of children in the continent every year. WHO’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, marked the approval as a ‘historic day’ and explained at a Geneva press conference that after successful trials in three African countries, the malaria vaccine should be available for a global rollout:
I started my career as a malaria researcher, and I longed for the day that we would have an effective vaccine against this ancient and terrible disease. And today is that day, an historic day. Today, the WHO is recommending the broad use of the world’s first malaria vaccine.
What is the malaria vaccine?
The malaria vaccine known as RTS,S – or Mosquirix was developed by British manufacturers GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and underwent large-scale trials, vaccinating over 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019.
RTS,S has undergone extensive trials but showed limited efficacy, preventing 39% of malaria cases and 29% of severe malaria cases. However, a study lead by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found that a combination of the vaccine and antimalarial drugs reduced hospitalisations and malaria-related deaths in children by up to 70%.
Professor Sir Brian Greenwood from the LSHTM explained that while the vaccine doesn’t provide complete protection against malaria, ‘this decision is testament to the global health community’s drive and vision to find a way forward.’
As part of a tailored approach it has great potential to reduce death and illness in high burden areas, especially when combined with other interventions such as seasonal malaria chemoprevention and bed nets, and be a huge boost to malaria control efforts.
GSK has pledged to produce 15 million doses of RTS,S each year at no more than 5% of the cost of production, in addition to the 10 million doses donated to WHO pilot programmes.
A global market study the WHO conducted this year also predicted that the demand for malaria vaccines will shoot to 50-110 million doses per year by 2030 in areas of moderate to high transmission.
Another malaria vaccine is also in the works by the Jenner Institute of Oxford University. Trials conducted on over 450 children in Burkina Faso so far prove that the jab could provide around 77% effectiveness. More extensive trials involving 4,800 children are now being conducted in four countries.
The malaria vaccine could be a life-saver for children
In recent years there has been mounting fears that the fight against the mosquito-borne disease has stalled, with 409,000 people dying of malaria in 2019, with most of the victims being in Africa and 270,000 being children under five.
Children under the age of five often bear the brunt of malaria, with the disease killing roughly 260,000 children each year.
But, the new WHO-approved vaccine has sparked hopes once again for a malaria-free world, with the global health watchdog believes RTS,S could now be rolled out to the broader population of sub-Saharan African children, where there are moderate to high levels of transmission.
Thomas Breuer, GSK’s chief global health officer, stated: ‘GSK is proud that RTS,S, our groundbreaking malaria vaccine, developed over decades by our teams and partners, can now be made available to children across sub-Saharan Africa.’
This long-awaited landmark decision can reinvigorate the fight against malaria in the region at a time when progress on malaria control has stalled. Both real-world evidence and clinical trial data show that RTS,S, alongside other malaria prevention measures, has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives.