LONDON – The World Health Organization on Wednesday recommended giving the world’s first malaria vaccine to children across Africa, officials hope efforts to stem the spread of the parasitic disease will stall.
After a meeting of the United Nations Health Agency’s vaccination advisory group, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus spoke of a “historic moment”.
“Today’s recommendation gives hope to the continent that bears the heaviest burden of the disease, and we expect more African children to be protected from malaria and become healthy adults,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Country Director for Africa. .
The WHO said the decision was based on the results of a study that followed more than 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019.
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The malaria vaccine, known as Mosquirix, was developed in 1987 by GlaxoSmithKline. Although this is the first allowed, it is only 30% effective, up to four doses are required, and the protection disappears after a few months.
However, given the enormous burden of malaria in Africa – where more than 200 million cases and 400,000 deaths occur each year in most parts of the world – scientists say the vaccine could still have a major impact. .
“It’s a big step forward,” said Julian Rayner, director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, which is not part of the WHO decision. “It’s an imperfect vaccine, but it will stop the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children anyway.” Rayner said the effect of the vaccine on the spread of mosquito-borne disease is still unclear, but cited coronavirus vaccines as a encouraging example.
“The last two years have given us a very subtle understanding of how important vaccines are in saving lives and reducing hospitalization, even if they don’t directly reduce infection.”
Xian Clark, co-chair of the Malaria Center at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the vaccine would be useful for other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as bedding and insecticides, after decades of use.
“In some countries that are really hot, kids sleep outside, so it’s impossible to protect them with a bed,” Clark explained. “Obviously, if they’re vaccinated, they’ll be protected anyway.”
Clark added that no significant progress has been made in the fight against malaria over the past few years. “If we want to reduce the burden of disease now, we need something else.”