LONDON – The World Health Organization on Wednesday backed the world’s first malaria vaccine and said it should be given to children across Africa in the hope that it will boost stalled efforts to stop the spread of the parasitic disease.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called it “a historic moment” after a meeting in which two expert advisory groups from the UN health agency recommended the move.
“Today’s recommendation provides a ray of hope for the continent, which bears the greatest burden of the disease. And we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults,” said WHO. Africa Director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said.
The WHO said its decision was based largely on the results of ongoing research in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, which has tracked more than 800,000 children who have received the vaccine since 2019.
The vaccine, known as Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline in 1987. Although it is the first to be authorized, it faces challenges: The vaccine is only 30% effective, requires four doses, and its protection fades after several months. .
Still, scientists say the vaccine could have a major impact against malaria in Africa, where most of the world has more than 200 million cases and 400,000 deaths per year,
“It’s a huge step,” said Julian Rainer, director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, who was not part of the WHO’s decision. “It is an incomplete vaccine, but it will still prevent hundreds of thousands of children from dying.”
Rainer said the vaccine’s effect on the spread of the mosquito-borne disease was still unclear, but pointed to people developed for the coronavirus as an encouraging example.
“The last two years have given us a very nuanced understanding of how important vaccines are in saving lives and reducing hospitalizations, even if they do not reduce direct transmission,” he said.
Dr. Alejandro Craviotto, head of the WHO vaccine group that made the recommendation, said it was particularly difficult to design a shot against malaria because it is a parasitic disease spread by mosquitoes.
“We are faced with extraordinarily complex organisms,” he said. “We are not yet in reach of a highly efficacious vaccine, but we now have a vaccine that can be deployed and is safe.”
The WHO said side effects were rare, but sometimes included fever that could result in temporary convulsions.
Sean Clark, co-director of the Malaria Center at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the vaccine would be a useful addition to other tools against the disease, which may end their usefulness after decades of use, such as bed nets and Pesticides.
“In some countries where it gets really hot, kids just sleep outside, so they can’t be protected with a bed net,” Clark said. “So obviously even if they were vaccinated, they would still be safe.”
In recent years, there has been little significant progress against malaria, Clark said.
“If we’re going to reduce the burden of disease now, we need something else,” she explained.
Azra Ghani, Chair of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London, said she and her colleagues estimate that giving children a malaria vaccine in Africa could lead to an overall reduction of 30%, with 8 million fewer cases and 40,000 fewer per capita. There may be deaths. Year.
“For people who don’t live in malaria countries, a 30% reduction might not seem like much. But for people living in those areas, malaria is one of their top concerns,” Ghani said. “A 30% reduction would save a lot of lives and save mothers from bringing their babies to health centers and swallowing the health system.”
He said the WHO’s guidance would be a “first step” towards creating better malaria vaccines. He said efforts to produce a second-generation malaria vaccine could be boosted by the messenger RNA technology used to make the two most successful COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna.
“We’ve seen very high antibody levels from mRNA vaccines, and they can also be adapted very quickly,” Ghani said, noting that BioNTech recently said it was starting to research a potential malaria shot. Will give “It’s impossible to say exactly how this might affect the malaria vaccine, but we certainly need new options to fight it.”
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