WHO’ First Malaria Vaccine-RTS,S for Children at Risk

WHO recommends malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa

Malaria kills about half a million people every year, and nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa – including 260,000 children under age 5.

Malaria has been one of the biggest diseases humanity has faced and continue to face and mostly kill babies and infants until the malaria vaccine discovery.

And after more than a century of trying to concur this infectious disease – a vaccine has emerged – a great achievement in medicine.

But having gained a new weapon in the war on malaria, which is actually the first vaccine shown to help prevent the disease. It is a joy, because the disease kills half a million people every year in poor countries while it is rare in the developed world.

This new vaccine – made by GlaxoSmithKline – was proven effective six years ago and is said to arouses a child’s immune system to stop Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Sub-Sahara Africa..

Now, Its to be known that after a successful pilot immunization programmes in three African countries namely Ghana – West, Kenya – East and Malawi – East, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the vaccine should be rolled out across sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high malaria transmissions.

To have a vaccine that is safe, moderately effective and ready for distribution is “a historic moment,” said Dr. Pedro Alonso, director of the W.H.O.’s global malaria program. “The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Using this vaccine on top of existing  tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” he added.

vaccine overtaking deadly Parasites

Before the vaccine, there were drugs to kill the parasite, bed-nets to prevent bites and insecticides to kill the mosquito have all helped reduce malaria the past millennia.

The vaccine, called called Mosquirix (RTS,S/AS01) – is not just a first for malaria – it is the first ever to be developed for any parasitic disease. Parasites are much more complex than viruses or bacteria, and the quest for a malaria vaccine has been underway for a hundred years.

The infectious Malaria is caused by parasites that invades and destroys our blood cells and it spreads by the bite of infected blood-sucking mosquitoes. And a parasite is an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host.

Although the vaccine is ‘only’ 40% effective. Yet, it is a remarkable success and paves the way for the development of more potent vaccines.

“It’s a huge jump from the science perspective to have a first-generation vaccine against a human parasite,” said Dr. Pedro Alonso the director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme.

Pilot immunization program

The findings of the pilots concluded by WHO’s expert advisory groups; which resulted from more than 2.3 million doses, said:

  • the vaccine was safe and still led to a 30% reduction in severe malaria
  • it reached more than two-thirds of children who don’t have a bed-net to sleep under
  • there was no negative reaction against other routine vaccines or other measures to prevent malaria
  • the vaccine has a favorable safety profile after 2.3 million doses in three African countries
  • the vaccine was highly cost-effective

“From a scientific perspective, this is a massive breakthrough, from a public health perspective this is a historical feat,” said Dr. Alonso.

“We’ve been looking for a malaria vaccine for over 100 years now, it will save lives and prevent disease in African children,” he added.

WHO recommendation for the malaria vaccine

Two of WHO’s global advisory bodies, one for immunization and the other for malaria, have recommend that:

“WHO recommends that in the context of comprehensive malaria control the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine be used for the prevention of P. falciparum malaria in children living in regions with moderate to high transmission as defined by WHO.  RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine should be provided in a schedule of 4 doses in children from 5 months of age for the reduction of malaria disease and burden.”

“For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

He also said that “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.”