The global health body endorses GSK's malaria vaccine for children, the first against the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 400,000 a year.
The World Health Organization has recommended that the world’s first malaria vaccine should be given to children across Africa, in a move officials hope will spur stalled efforts to curb the spread of the parasitic disease.
Following a meeting of the United Nations health agency's vaccine advisory group, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of “a historic moment.”
"Today, WHO is recommending the broad use of the world's first malaria vaccine," said Ghebreyesus on Wednesday.
The recommendation for RTS,S, or Mosquirix, a vaccine developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, was jointly announced in Geneva by the WHO's top advisory bodies for malaria and immunisation, the Malaria Policy Advisory Group and the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation.
"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,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's Africa director.
The WHO said its decision was based on results from ongoing research in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has tracked more than 800,000 children since 2019.
While Mosquirix is the first to be authorised, it is only about 30 percent effective, requires up to four doses, and protection fades after just months.
Still, given the extremely high burden of malaria in Africa — where the majority of the world’s more than 200 million cases a year and 400,000 deaths occur — scientists say the vaccine could still have a major impact.
“This is a huge step forward,” said Julian Rayner, director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, who was not part of the WHO decision. “It’s an imperfect vaccine, but it will still stop hundreds of thousands of children from dying.”
Rayner said that the vaccine’s impact on the spread of the mosquito-borne disease was still unclear, but pointed to the coronavirus vaccines as an encouraging example.
“The last two years have given us a very nuanced understanding of how important vaccines are in saving lives and reducing hospitalisations, even if they don’t directly reduce transmission.”
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