(Geneva) “A historic moment”: the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended this Wednesday the massive deployment of the first vaccine against malaria in children living in sub-Saharan Africa and in risk areas, which could save dozens of thousands of lives.
Posted on October 6, 2021 at 2:16 PM
A very old disease, reported since Antiquity, malaria manifests itself by fever, headaches and muscle aches, then by cycles of chills, fever and sweating.
A child dies every two minutes from malaria worldwide, according to the WHO.
“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, children’s health and the fight against malaria, ”WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“Using this vaccine in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” he added.
“RTS, S”, produced by the British pharmaceutical giant GSK, is a vaccine that works against a parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) transmitted by mosquitoes, the deadliest parasite in the world and the most common in Africa.
For Africa, where malaria kills more than 260,000 children under the age of five each year, this vaccine is synonymous with hope, especially as fears of malaria resistance to treatment mount.
“For centuries, malaria has plagued sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
In total, five species of parasites of the genus Plasmodium, all transmitted by mosquito bites, are responsible for this disease.
Plasmodium falciparum is the most pathogenic species and responsible for fatal cases.
“We have long waited for an effective malaria vaccine and now, for the first time, we have a recommended vaccine for widespread use,” he added.
Since 2019, three sub-Saharan African countries – Ghana, Kenya and Malawi – have begun introducing the vaccine in selected areas where malaria transmission is moderate to severe. Two years after the start of this first life-size trial in the world, 2.3 million doses of vaccine could be administered.
Manufactured by the British pharmaceutical giant GSK, “RTS, S” is the first vaccine, and the only one so far, that has been shown to significantly reduce the number of malaria cases, including severe and life-threatening malaria, in children.
Next step: financing
Results from the pilot vaccine showed that it “significantly reduces malaria in its severe form by 30%,” said Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO immunization department.
In May 2018, the national regulatory authorities of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi authorized its use in the pilot areas.
According to the WHO, phase 3 clinical trials have shown that the vaccine, when given in 4 doses, prevents 4 out of 10 cases of malaria and 3 out of 10 cases of severe and life-threatening malaria.
But before a massive rollout, the next important step will be funding.
The Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) said it will examine, together with other relevant stakeholders, “if and how to finance a new vaccination program against malaria in sub-Saharan African countries,” in a statement issued after the WHO announcement.
The year 2021 was marked by several important advances in the fight against malaria, a disease that has been neglected for years by pharmaceutical companies and research.
A candidate vaccine developed by the University of Oxford, Matrix-M, raised hopes in April, showing an unmatched efficacy of 77% in phase II trials. It could be approved in two years.
In July, German laboratory BioNTech indicated that it wanted to apply the promising messenger RNA technology, used in its pioneering COVID-19 vaccine with Pfizer, to malaria by launching trials for a vaccine next year.
The WHO also hopes that this latest recommendation will encourage scientists to develop other vaccines against malaria.
RTS, S is “a very important first-generation vaccine,” said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO malaria program, “but we hope […] that will encourage researchers to look for other types of vaccines that complement or exceed this one. ”