World's First Malaria Vaccine Is Going To Protect 360,000 Malawi Children

The World Health Organization (WHO) launched a large-scale pilot project which brings the world’s first malaria vaccine to the children of Malawi, Africa. It is offered to children aged two and below in hopes of saving thousands of lives.

On Tuesday, WHO’s pilot project gave 360,000 Malawi children the first-ever malaria vaccine, reported CNN. Vaccinations will also be extended to Kenya and Ghana in the coming weeks as health ministries prepare for administration there.

The vaccine is called Mosquirix (RTS,S‚ which was created by British scientists in 1987. It had to undergo several years of testing before it was declared safe and effective. According to the WHO, although malaria cases had dwindled down since 2000, it has made a comeback in 2017 when 219 million people got infected.

WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the organization has tried to contain the disease by offering bed nets and other measures to control the spread of malaria in African territories for the last 15 years. He said that the vaccine is a promising upgrade to these measures since it could help save tens of thousands of African children.

Professor of human genetics and director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford Adrian Hill added that malaria is a challenging disease since the mosquitos become resistant to vaccines after 20 years. He said that the cases may even rise in number come 2020.

According to senior staff scientist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Alena Pance, the vaccine was not overwhelmingly effective. It only offers 40 percent protection but it’s considered an acceptable rate compared to no protection at all. She said that the drug has taken decades to develop and its approval for human use is good news in itself.

Director of the International Vaccine Access Center William Moss said that malaria is more difficult to treat compared to viruses and bacteria. Its sophisticated way of invading the human body’s immune system makes it difficult for developers to design a vaccine that the parasite cannot resist.

The malaria vaccine is given in four doses. The three doses are administered for the first five to nine months of infant age while the fourth dose is given when the child turns two.