Malaria vaccine introduced: a game-changing announcement
After decades of trial and error, the development of a vaccine against malaria is arguably one of medicine's biggest achievements.
What is malaria and why is it dangerous?
Malaria is a parasite spread by blood-sucking mosquitoes, found mostly in Africa, and parts of South America and Asia. The disease mainly affects (and kills) babies and infants.
The reason why it took so long to develop a vaccine against malaria is because of the complex ways in which it affects a person's health:
the parasite invades and destroys blood cells to reproduce
over the years, malaria evolved to 'avoid' the human immune system
once it enters the body, it infects liver cells and red blood cells.
Who developed the vaccine?
RTS,S, or Mosquirix (the two names of the vaccine) was developed by the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Mosquirix was delivered to more than 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since the pilot program began in 2019.
Over four years, the research found that the vaccine only prevented 39% of malaria cases and 29% of severe malaria cases among small children in Africa. However, a study led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found that giving young children both the vaccine and antimalarial drugs reduces hospitalization or death by 70%.
What are the potential impacts of the vaccine?
Mosquirix could save thousands of lives lost to malaria every year. It can also help African countries reduce the economic and social burden caused by the disease. For example, these countries scare off tourists and global investors, which makes it harder for them to crawl out of the state of extreme poverty.
According to Dr. Mary Hamel, the doctor who leads World Health Organizations's (WHO) malaria vaccine implementation program, distributing Mosquirix is rather easy. This means that the process of supplying vaccine to distant regions is likely to be efficient and successful.