WHO's Vaccine Move Called 'Glimmer of Hope' for Africa

In 'historic moment,' UN endorses malaria vaccine for children
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 6, 2021 2:00 PM CDT
In 'Historic Moment,' UN Endorses World's First Malaria Vaccine
In this Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 photo, residents of the Malawi village of Tomali wait to have their young children become test subjects for the world's first vaccine against malaria.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, file)

(Newser) – The world’s first malaria vaccine should be given to children across Africa, the World Health Organization recommended Wednesday, a move that officials hope will spur stalled efforts to curb the spread of the parasitic disease. From the AP:

  • "A historic moment." WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called it "a historic moment" after a meeting in which two of the UN health agency's expert advisory groups endorsed using the vaccine. "Today's recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent, which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease," said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Africa director.

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  • Research involved 800K children. WHO said its decision was based largely on results from ongoing research in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi that tracked more than 800,000 children who have received the vaccine since 2019.
  • It's an "imperfect" vaccine. The malaria vaccine, known as Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline in 1987. While it’s the first to be authorized, it does have challenges: the vaccine is only about 30% effective, requires up to four doses, and its protection fades after several months. Still, given the extremely high burden of malaria in Africa—where the majority of the world’s more than 200 million cases a year and 400,000 deaths a year occur—scientists say the vaccine could still have a major impact. "This is a huge step forward,” said Julian Rayner, director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. "It’s an imperfect vaccine, but it will still stop hundreds of thousands of children from dying.”

  • It could save 40K lives a year. Azra Ghani, chair of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said she and colleagues estimate that the introduction of the malaria vaccine in African children might result in a 30% reduction overall: up to 8 million fewer cases and as many as 40,000 fewer deaths per year. "For people not living in malaria countries, a 30% reduction might not sound like much. But for the people living in those areas, malaria is one of their top concerns," Ghani said.
  • Next steps. Ghani said the WHO guidance would hopefully be a "first step" to making better malaria vaccines. Ghani said efforts to produce a second-generation malaria vaccine might be given a boost by the messenger RNA technology used to make two of the most successful COVID-19 vaccines, those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
(Read more malaria stories.)

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