Vaccine Potential Game Changer in Fight Against Malaria

In advance of World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization recommends the expanded use of the first malaria vaccine, calling it a potential game changer in the fight against malaria.

Malaria is a preventable, treatable disease.  Yet, every year, malaria sickens more than 200 million people and kills more than 600,000.  Most of these deaths, nearly half a million, are among young children in Africa.  That means every 60 seconds a child dies of malaria.

Despite this bleak news, the outlook for malaria control is promising, thanks to the development of the world’s first malaria vaccine.  The World Health Organization calls the achievement a historic breakthrough for science.

A pilot program was started in 2019 in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.  Since then, the World Health Organization reports more than a million children in the three countries have received the malaria vaccine.

Mary Hamel is Head of WHOs Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program.  She said the two-year pilot program has shown the vaccine is safe, feasible to deliver and reduces deadly severe malaria.

“We saw a 30% drop in children being brought to the hospitals with deadly, severe malaria.  And we also saw almost a 10% reduction in all caused child mortality.  If the vaccine is widely deployed, it is estimated that it could save an additional 40 to 80,000 child lives each year,” she said.

WHO reports Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance will provide more than $155 million to support expanded introduction of the malaria vaccine for Gavi-eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The vaccine against malaria was under development before the COVID-19 vaccine was produced.  Hamel said WHO has learned a lot of lessons from that effort, which could be used in the development of future malaria vaccines.

“We know there have been new platforms that came forward since the COVID vaccine, including the mRNA platform and now the developers of one of the mRNA vaccines is looking forward to developing a malaria vaccine using that same platform,” she said.

Last July, BioNTech, manufacturer of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, announced it wants to build on that success by developing a malaria vaccine using mRNA technology.  The pharmaceutical company says it aims to start clinical trials by the end of this year.

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