2021-10-06 20:51:51 Malaria vaccine a ‘breakthrough for science’, WHO chief says | Health News
Malaria vaccine a ‘breakthrough for science’, WHO chief says | Health News
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Wednesday that the only approved malaria vaccine should be widely distributed to African children, marking a significant step forward in the fight against a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year.
The WHO recommends RTS,S, a vaccine developed by the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and marketed under the brand name “Mosquirix.”
In a large-scale pilot program coordinated by the WHO, 2.3 million doses of Mosquirix have been administered to infants in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi since 2019. The disease kills the majority of children under the age of five.
Following a decade of clinical trials in seven African countries, this program was launched.
“This long-awaited malaria vaccine is a scientific breakthrough.” “We are very proud that this vaccine was developed in Africa by African scientists,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Using this vaccine in conjunction with existing malaria prevention tools could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” he added, referring to anti-malaria measures such as bed nets and spraying.
In Africa, malaria is far more lethal than COVID-19. According to a WHO estimate, it killed 386,000 Africans in 2019, compared to 212,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in the previous 18 months.
According to the WHO, Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people, accounts for 94 percent of malaria cases and deaths. The disease is caused by parasites that are transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitos; symptoms include fever, vomiting, and fatigue.
Although the vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing severe malaria cases in children is only about 30%, it is the only approved vaccine. In 2015, the European Union’s drug regulator approved it, stating that the benefits outweighed the risks.
“This is how we fight malaria: layering imperfect tools on top of each other,” said Ashley Birkett, global malaria vaccine lead at Path, a non-profit global health organization that funded the vaccine’s development with GSK as well as the three-country pilot.
Another malaria vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, developed by scientists at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, demonstrated up to 77 percent efficacy in a year-long study involving 450 children in Burkina Faso, researchers reported in April, but it is still in the trial stages.
GSK welcomed the WHO recommendation as well.
“This long-awaited landmark decision has the potential to reenergize the fight against malaria in the region at a time when progress on malaria control has stalled,” said Thomas Breuer, chief global health officer, in a statement.
According to experts, the next challenge will be raising funds for the vaccine’s production and distribution to some of the world’s poorest countries.
GSK has committed to producing 15 million doses of Mosquirix per year, in addition to the 10 million doses donated to WHO pilot programs, until 2028 at a cost of production plus a margin of no more than 5%.
According to a global market study led by the WHO this year, demand for a malaria vaccine would be 50 to 110 million doses per year by 2030 if it is deployed in areas with moderate to high disease transmission.
The GAVI vaccine alliance, a global public-private partnership, will decide whether and how to fund the vaccination program in December.
“As we saw with the COVID vaccine, where there is political will, there is funding available to ensure that vaccines are scaled to the level needed,” said Kate O’Brien, director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals.
According to a source familiar with the vaccine’s development planning, the price per dose has not yet been determined, but will be confirmed following GAVI’s funding decision and once there is a clear sense of demand for the vaccine.
BioNTech, which collaborated with Pfizer to develop a coronavirus vaccine, also stated that it plans to begin trials for a malaria vaccine next year using the same breakthrough mRNA technology.
The WHO also hopes that this new recommendation will encourage scientists to create more malaria vaccines.
The WHO decision meant a lot to Dr Rose Jalong’o, a vaccinology specialist at Kenya’s Ministry of Health.
“I had malaria as a child, and during my internship and clinical years, I attended to children in hospital who needed a blood transfusion due to severe malaria, and unfortunately, some of them died.”
“It’s a disease I’ve known my entire life, and seeing all of this in my lifetime is an exciting time.”