Scientists have been working on an effective malaria vaccine for over 30 years and this month the latest iteration, the RTS, S vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline and largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was approved by the World Health Organization. ( W.H.O.)
Two years ago, clinical trials for the RTS,S vaccine rolled out in Malawi, Kenya and Ghana reaching 800,000 children under five with 2.3 million administered doses. Boasting a strong safety profile according to the W.H.O., the four-dose vaccine that fights against the Plasmodium falciparum parasite from female mosquitoes is advised to begin at five months of age. Scientists and health workers who worked on the clinical trials say the vaccine reduced hospital admission by 30% and “nearly halves the risk of severe malaria over a period of 18 months” according to clinical trial data.
“This is a historic moment. 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 in a statement. “Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”
Each year over 400,000 people die from malaria with the vast majority being children under the age of five. In 2019, 274,000 children died from malaria accounting for 67% of all deaths. Most malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa where the Plasmodium falciparum parasite is rife.
The next step in the rollout is how it will be financed moving forward. “The financial resources will be required, and it is a great opportunity to show that success in having a new malaria vaccine is also a great opportunity for global solidarity, generating further resources to ensure that all African children that can and should benefit from this vaccine do get this vaccine in the, hopefully, not-too-distant future,” said Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director W.H.O. Global Malaria Programme during a press conference.
Prior to the vaccine’s approval, malaria interventions include insecticide-treated bednets, rapid diagnostic testing, anti-malarial drugs, and larval control. While these interventions have been used for decades, they are likely to still be the mainstays to combat malaria child deaths as the W.H.O.-approved vaccine only has a current efficacy of 30 percent.