WHO rolls out GSK’s malaria vaccine in Africa

09-22-2021 Insight Talents (Shanghai) Executive Search Firm Hits:1095

The WHO has given the go-ahead for the mass roll out of a malaria vaccine for children, in a historic moment in the fight against the disease.

The vaccine, developed by GSK and called RTS,S, was proven effective in clinical trials six years ago, and has since been tested in pilot immunisation programmes in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said it was "a historic moment".

"The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control," he said. "[It] could save tens of thousands of young lives each year."

RTS,S is not going to replace all the other measures for controlling malaria such as insecticide-treated bed nets. Instead, it will be used alongside these measures to get closer to the goal of zero deaths from malaria.

There are more than 100 types of malaria parasite, and the RTS,S vaccine targets the one that is most deadly and most common in Africa: Plasmodium falciparum.

The vaccine will not be used outside of Africa where different forms of malaria, which the vaccine can't protect against, are more prevalent.

Dr Ashley Birkett, from the Path malaria vaccine initiative, spoke to the BBC, saying that rolling out the vaccine was a "historic event" that would "take away fear" from families.

He said: "Imagine your young child could be healthy one day and full of potential and then after the bite of an infected mosquito, while playing with friends or sleeping in a bed, they could be dead in a couple of weeks. Malaria is a huge problem, it's frightening and scary."

Malaria is a parasite that invades and destroys the blood cells in order to reproduce, and is spread by the bite of blood-sucking mosquitoes.

In Africa, 260,000 children died from the disease in 2019.

It takes years of being repeatedly infected to build up immunity and even this only reduces the chances of becoming severely ill.

Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano piloted the vaccine in Ghana to assess whether mass vaccination was feasible and effective.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: "It is quite an exciting moment for us, with large scale vaccination I believe the malaria toll will be reduced to the barest minimum.”

The 2015 trials showed the vaccine could prevent around four in 10 cases of malaria, three in 10 severe cases and reduced the number of children needing blood transfusions by a third.

However, there were doubts the vaccine would work in a real-world setting, as it requires four doses to be effective. The first three are given a month apart at five, six, and seven months old, and a final booster is needed at around 18 months.

On Wednesday, the results from the pilot immunisation programme were discussed.

The results, from more than 2.3 million doses, showed:

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 impact on other routine vaccines or other measures to prevent malaria
the vaccine was cost-effective
Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, said: "From a scientific perspective, this is a massive breakthrough, from a public health perspective this is a historical feat.

"We've been looking for a malaria vaccine for over 100 years now, it will save lives and prevent disease in African children."

Kat Jenkins

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