The World Health Organization has recommended that a malaria vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline should be widely used in children in Sub-Saharan Africa and other regions at risk, reports the Financial Times.

The backing for a wider deployment of RTS, S, or Mosquirix, marks a historic moment in the fight against a disease that killed more than 400,000 people in 2019 — two-thirds of whom were under the age of five.

The parasite-caused disease affects Africa particularly, accounting for 94 percent of cases and deaths in 2019.

“The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health, and malaria control,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said on Wednesday as the news was announced in Geneva.

GSK conducted multi-year trials on the shot, which showed an overall reduction of severe malaria of about 30-40 percent.

GSK has signed a transfer agreement for a part of the vaccine with India’s Bharat Biotech, which could make it more widely available.

Ashley Birkett, the global head of malaria at PATH, a Seattle-based health non-profit backed by the Gates Foundation, said a vaccine was a “supplemental tool”, a weapon in the “armoury” used to fight malaria.

He said while there had been “a lot of progress in reducing disease and death from malaria”, there had been a “stalling over the past five years.”

Mosquirix is being used in pilots in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, where more than 800,000 children have received it. About 2.3m doses have been administered to date, the WHO said.

The shot is a recombinant-protein-based vaccine, a technology harnessed in vaccines used against other diseases.

GSK welcomed the WHO’s announcement, saying it followed the release of new data that showed that the vaccine, administered seasonally with antimalarials, lowered clinical episodes of malaria, hospital admissions with severe malaria and deaths by about 70 per cent.

The drugmaker will donate up to 10m doses for the pilot programs and supply up to 15m doses a year to be sold at no more than 5 percent above the cost of production.

Thomas Breuer, the company’s chief global health officer, said the move would “reinvigorate the fight against malaria in the region at a time when progress on malaria control has stalled”.

Malaria vaccines are being developed by a number of participants, including the University of Oxford and BioNTech.

Both entities have developed safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines, with AstraZeneca and Pfizer, respectively.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said malaria had stalked Sub-Saharan Africa for centuries. “Now, for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use. 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.”

 

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