Oct 6, 2021 - Health

WHO backs first malaria vaccine for at-risk children

A Doctors Without Borders (MSF) health worker tends to a mother and her child at a mobile clinic. Photo: Saidu Bah/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Wednesday recommended the first vaccine against malaria for widespread use inoculating children in sub-Saharan Africa and other at-risk regions.

Why it matters: Malaria kills more than 400,000 people per year, more than half of them children under 5. The introduction of the first vaccine could reinvigorate the fight against the disease, which has stagnated in recent years, per the press release.

  • "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," Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in the press release.

The big picture: The new vaccine is administered in four doses and has already been used to inoculate more than 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi as part of a pilot program, per the press release.

  • Called RTS,S or Mosquirix, the new vaccine is also the first to be developed against any parasitic disease, notes the New York Times.
  • The vaccine acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite and the most common in Africa, per the press release.
  • “This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the press release.
  • “Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year," he added.

But, but, but: The vaccine reduced severe cases of malaria by just 30%, and it's too soon to tell what impact it will have on the number of deaths, notes the Wall Street Journal.

  • It could also be years before the vaccine is widely available in sub-Saharan Africa, per the Journal.
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