The WHO Officially Endorses the First Malaria Vaccine

Malaria has afflicted humanity for thousands of years, and the parasite is especially deadly for children and babies. The WHO has recommended the first malaria vaccine be deployed across sub-Saharan Africa.

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) fully endorsed widespread use of the world’s first malaria vaccine for African children.

The vaccine, RTS,S or Mosquirix, was first proven effective six years ago; GlaxoSmithKline first began developing RTS,S over three decades ago.

The WHO delayed approval due to the complexity of deploying the required four doses over 18 months, and the relatively low (32%) efficacy of the vaccine. Upon reviewing pilot vaccination programs in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi, the WHO officially recommended deploying the vaccine to all sub-Saharan Africa.

In Kenya, 80% of eligible babies received the first dose of the vaccine, and 41% received the fourth and final dose. Among vaccinated children, severe malaria was down 30%. It was estimated that full vaccination would save the life of one in every 230 children.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, called it "a historic moment… The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health, and malaria control."

The malaria parasite reproduces by infiltrating and destroying blood cells and is spread through mosquito bites. Drugs, insecticides, and bed nets to prevent mosquito bites have all reduced malaria by approximately 45%, but it still causes 230 million cases and 400000 deaths a year. 95% of malaria cases and deaths are in Africa, and children under five are the most affected.

There are over 100 types of malaria parasites, but RTS,S protects against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest and most common malaria parasite in Africa.

Glaxo plans to transfer production of the vaccine to Bharat Biotech in India by the year 2028. Until then, the company has promised to deliver a minimum of 15 million doses each year.

Dr. Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, head of the vaccine pilot program in Ghana, was very optimistic about the roll-out. “It is quite an exciting moment for us, with large scale vaccination I believe the malaria toll will be reduced to the barest minimum.”