World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghedbreyesus stepped out to recommend the world’s first malaria vaccine to people after the organization had approved the vaccine.
Ghebreyesus called this a “historic moment” after the United Nations health agency’s vaccine advisory group concluded their meeting.
“Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the director of WHO for Africa.
The organization said that it came to this decision after results from research conducted in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi that has observed over 800,000 children since 2019.
WHO approves Mosquirix malaria vaccine to strengthen the fight against the mosquito-borne disease
The vaccine is called Mosquirix and was originally created by GlaxoSmithKline in 1987. Although it’s the first vaccine of its kind to be authorized, it is just 30% effective, requiring up to four doses with its protection waning after a few months.
Despite this, experts are hopeful about the vaccine, saying it could still change the course of the fight against malaria in Africa– where the majority of the world’s cases and deaths occur.
“This is a huge step forward,” said Julian Rayner, who is the director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, and was not involved in WHO’s approval of the vaccine. “It’s an imperfect vaccine, but it will still stop hundreds of thousands of children from dying.”
Rayner also said that it was too early to predict the extent of the vaccine’s impact on the spread of malaria, but that the coronavirus vaccines offered a hopeful precedent.
“The last two years have given us a very nuanced understanding f how important vaccines are in saving lives and reducing hospitalizations, even if they don’t directly reduce transmission.”
Sian Clarke, co-director of the Malaria Centre at the london School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that the vaccine would provide significant support to the tired methods experts have been using for years, like bednets and insecticides.
“In some countries where it gets really hot, children just sleep outside, so they can’t be protected by. abednet,” Clarke said. “So obviously if they’ve been vaccinated, they will still be protected.”
Clarke also said that the last few years have transformed the fight against the mosquito-borne disease. “If we’re going to decrease the disease burden now, we need something else.”
Malaria is responsible for roughly 500,000 deaths each year, with half of those deaths being children under 5 years old in Africa. Malaria is less common in other parts of the world. There are only 2,000 cases in the United States annually, and they are usually attributed to travelers coming home from countries where the disease is widespread.