What do we know about the world’s first malaria vaccine

Child receiving the malaria vaccine in Western Kenya.

Child receiving the malaria vaccine in Western Kenya. | Photo Credit: AP, File Image

Key Highlights

  • The world’s first malaria vaccine – Mosquirix – has been approved and recommended by the World Health Organization
  • According to WHO, malaria claimed 3.8 lakh living in Africa in 2019 alone. Over the past 18 months, the continent has seen 2.12 lakh Covid deaths.
  • The mosquito-borne disease claims the lives of more than 2,60,000 African children under the age of five annually, according to WHO.

The world’s first malaria vaccine – Mosquirix – was approved and recommended by the World Health Organization on Wednesday.

Calling it a “historic moment” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is an innovative development for science, child health and malaria control. Using this vaccine on top of existing malaria prevention equipment could save tens of thousands of young lives each year. “

And it’s truly historic – a huge step in the fight against the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 4,00,000 people a year worldwide, and remains one of the leading causes childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, a child dies of malaria every two minutes in Africa, and the mosquito-borne disease claims the lives of more than 2,60,000 African children under the age of five annually, according to WHO. The health body estimates that Africa accounts for 94% of all malaria and death cases worldwide. In a continent of 1.3 billion people, the number is huge.

In Africa, malaria is much more deadly than Covid-19

To put this into perspective, in 2019 alone, malaria claimed 3.8 lakh living in Africa, according to WHO. Compare this with 2.12 lakh deaths of Covid-19 in the last 18 months.

The WHO recommendation to widely use Mosquirix comes from the results of an ongoing pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 8,00,000 children since 2019.

Is Mosquirix the only vaccine for malaria?

There have been many potential candidates for malarial vaccines, which have been an area of ​​intense research since the 1960s. RTS, S / ASO1 (RTS.S), or Mosquirix was conceived and created in the 1980s by GlaxoSmithKline (later known as SmithKline Beecham Biologicals), and has been found to be the most effective to date. It was approved for use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in July 2015.

Mosquirix has many ‘firsts’ to his credit. Initially, this is the world’s first licensed malaria vaccine. It is also the first vaccine licensed for use against human parasitic disease of any kind.

Shortly after EMA approval, the WHO Strategic Advisory Group on Immunization Experts (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Committee (MPAC) recommended that the vaccine be implemented in Africa in October 2015. The pilot project was launched in 2019 in Malawi, Ghana and Kenya and the basis of this project is that WHO has recommended Mosquirix.

How is the vaccine given?

Mosquirix can only be obtained by prescription. The vaccine is given as a 0.5 ml injection into the hip muscle or around the shoulder. According to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), it is to be given to children aged 6 weeks to 17 months.

The vaccine should be given in a schedule of four doses. The child is given three injections with one month between each injection. A fourth injection is recommended 18 months after the third.

How does it work?

According to EMA, the active substance in Mosquirix contains proteins found on the surface of the parasites Plasmodium falciparum and the hepatitis B virus. When given the vaccine, the immune system recognizes the ‘foreign’ proteins from the parasite and makes antibodies against them. The system will then be able to produce antibodies faster when the child is naturally exposed to malaria parasites in the future. While it also helps protect against liver infection with the hepatitis B virus, EMA warns that the vaccine should not be used for this purpose alone.

What is its effectiveness?

According to the WHO, vaccine analysis says it has 30% effectiveness in preventing severe cases of malaria in children. And it’s pretty safe too. To date, more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been given in three African countries, and the vaccine has a favorable safety profile, the WHO said.

Although touted to be the most successful of all the vaccines, Mosquirix faces challenges and the fundamental one is that his defense fades after several months. Despite that, the scientists say the vaccine could have a major impact against malaria in Africa.

Azra Ghani, chair of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said she and colleagues estimate that giving the malaria vaccine to children in Africa could lead to a 30% reduction overall, with up to eight million fewer cases and as many with 40,000 fewer deaths per year.

In a continent that fears malaria more than Covid-19, Mosquirix will go beyond saving lives. Given the number of African babies succumbing to the mosquito’s death kiss, Mosquirix will save generations.