WHO recommends use of first malaria vaccine for children
The World Health Organization on Wednesday approved the RTS, S / AS01 vaccine against malaria, the first against the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 400,000 people a year, mostly African children.
The move follows a review of a pilot program rolled out since 2019 in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in which more than two million doses of the vaccine have been administered, first launched by pharmaceutical company GSK in 1987. .
After reviewing the evidence from those countries, the WHO said it was “recommending the widespread use of the world’s first malaria vaccine,” agency director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
WHO said it recommends children in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas with moderate to high transmission of malaria receive four doses until the age of two.
Every two minutes, a child dies of malaria, the agency said.
More than half of the world’s malaria deaths occur in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa and almost a quarter in Nigeria alone, according to 2019 figures from the WHO.
Symptoms include fever, headache, and muscle pain, followed by cycles of chills, fever, and sweating.
The results of the vaccine pilot showed that it “dramatically reduces severe malaria which is the fatal form by 30%,” said Kate O’Brien, director of WHO’s Immunization, Vaccines and Biologics Department.
The vaccine is “feasible to deliver”, she added and “it also reaches people without the disease … Two-thirds of children who do not sleep under a mosquito net in these countries now benefit from the vaccine”.
Many vaccines exist against viruses and bacteria, but this was the first time that the WHO recommended a vaccine against a human parasite for wide use.
The vaccine works against Plasmodium falciparum, one of the five species of malaria parasites and the most deadly.
“From a scientific standpoint, this is a massive breakthrough,” said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO Global Malaria Program.
– ‘Glimmer of hope’ –
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa said Wednesday’s recommendation “offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which bears the heaviest burden of the disease.”
The estimated cost of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is more than $ 12 billion a year, Alonso said at a press conference following the announcement.
Before the newly recommended vaccine can reach children in need, the next step will be funding.
“This will be the next major step… Then we will be set up for dose scaling and decisions on where the vaccine will be most useful and how it will be deployed,” O’Brien said. .
The Gavi vaccine alliance said in a statement after the WHO announcement that “global stakeholders, including Gavi, will consider whether and how to fund a new malaria vaccination program for African countries sub-Saharan “.
The fight against malaria received a boost in April when researchers at the UK University of Oxford announced that their Matrix-M vaccine candidate had become the first to exceed the 75% efficacy threshold. WHO.
Germany’s BioNTech, which developed a vaccine against the coronavirus with US giant Pfizer, also said it intended to start trials of a malaria vaccine next year using the same technology of Revolutionary mRNA.
WHO also hopes that this latest recommendation will encourage scientists to develop more vaccines against malaria.
The RTS, S / AS01 is “a first generation, really important,” said Alonso, “but we hope … it will stimulate the field to look for other types of vaccines to complement or go beyond that. -this”.
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