WHO Approves the World’s First Malaria Vaccine, Mosquirix

Mosquirix is the first vaccine developed to prevent contracting malaria, but its 30% effectiveness rate is far from perfect.

The World Health Organization is recommending a malaria vaccine in children who live in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with malaria transmission. 

Mosquirix is the first vaccine developed to prevent contracting malaria.

When used with other measures meant to help stop the spread of malaria, such as bed nets with insecticide, the vaccine has the potential to save “tens of thousands of young lives each year,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday.

The recommendation came after two independent advisory bodies – the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group – considered the available evidence on RTS,S, including what has been learned from the ongoing pilot program in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have administered more than 2.3 million doses of RTS,S through routine immunization services.

GlaxoSmithKline developed the vaccine with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid funded the pilot program. 

PATH, a global nonprofit dedicated to ending health inequity, said RTS,S would be a cost-effective addition to the suite of currently available malaria interventions.

 “Additionally, this work has shown the vaccine could have considerable public health impact, averting approximately one death for every 220 children vaccinated with a minimum of three doses in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission,” said Dr Ashley Birkett, Director of PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative.

“It is gratifying to know that a malaria vaccine developed specifically for African children could soon be more widely available,” said Dr. Nanthalile Mugala, PATH’s Chief of the Africa Region. “This is especially true now when progress in combatting malaria has stalled in parts of the Africa region and children remain at increased risk of dying from the disease.”

According to the WHO, more than 260,000 African children under the age of 5 die annually from mosquito-borne illness.

“Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a statement. “And we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults.”

The malaria parasite infects healthy red blood cells, where it reproduces. The P. falciparum parasite generates a family of molecules, known as PfEMP1, that are inserted into the surface of the infected red blood cells.

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The cells become sticky and adhere to the walls of blood vessels in tissues such as the brain. This prevents the cells from being flushed through the spleen, where the parasites would be destroyed by the body’s immune system, but also restricts blood supply to vital organs.

Symptoms can differ greatly between young and older children depending on previous exposure to the parasite. In young children, the disease can be extremely serious and potentially fatal if untreated; older children and adults who have grown up in endemic areas are resistant to severe malaria but rarely develop the ability to rid their bodies of the parasite.

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