WHO backs malaria vaccine rollout for Africa’s kids in main breakthrough By Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured in the World Health Organization (WHO) building in Geneva, Switzerland on February 2, 2020. REUTERS / Denis Balibouse
By Maggie Fick and Aaron Ross
NAIROBI (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that the only approved vaccine against malaria should be given on a large scale to African children, potentially a huge step forward against a disease that kills hundreds of thousands each year.
The WHO recommendation is RTS, S – or Mosquirix – a vaccine developed by the British drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE :).
Since 2019, 2.3 million doses of Mosquirix have been administered to infants in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in a large-scale pilot program coordinated by the WHO. The majority of those the disease kills are under five years of age.
This program followed a decade of clinical trials in seven African countries.
“This is a vaccine that was developed in Africa by African scientists and we are very proud of it,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Using this vaccine on top of existing anti-malarial agents could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” he added, referring to anti-malarial measures such as mosquito nets and spraying to kill mosquitoes that transmit the disease.
One of the ingredients in the Mosquirix vaccine comes from a rare evergreen native to Chile, the Quillay tree. Reuters reported on Wednesday https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/chilean-tree-holds-hope-new-vaccines-if-supplies-last-2021-10-06 that the long-term supply of these Trees are in question.
Malaria is far more deadly in Africa than COVID-19. According to a WHO estimate, 386,000 Africans died in 2019, compared to 212,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the past 18 months.
According to the WHO, 94% of malaria cases and deaths occur in Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people. The preventable disease is caused by parasites that are transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, and fatigue.
The vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing severe cases of malaria in children is only around 30%, but it is the only approved vaccine. The European Union’s medicines regulatory agency approved it in 2015 because the benefits outweigh the risks.
“Here’s how we fight malaria by layering imperfect tools,” said Ashley Birkett, who leads global malaria vaccine work at Path, a nonprofit global health organization that sponsored the vaccine development with GSK and the three-country pilot .
Another vaccine against malaria called R21 / Matrix-M, developed by scientists at Oxford University in the UK, showed up to 77% effectiveness in a year-long study of 450 children in Burkina Faso, researchers said in April. It is still in the testing phase.
GSK welcomed the WHO recommendation.
“This long-awaited landmark decision may reinvigorate the fight against malaria in the region at a time when advances in malaria control have stalled,” said Thomas Breuer, GSK’s chief global health officer, in a statement.
GSK shares held steady in New York following the announcement made after the London-listed shares closed.
The recommendation was jointly announced in Geneva by the leading WHO advisory bodies on malaria and vaccination, the Malaria Policy Advisory Group and the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization.
Experts said the challenge now is to raise funding to produce and distribute the vaccine to some of the world’s poorest countries.
GSK has so far committed to producing 15 million cans of Mosquirix annually by 2028 at production costs plus a margin of no more than 5%.
A WHO-led global market study earlier this year projected the demand for a malaria vaccine to be 50 to 110 million doses per year by 2030 when used in areas with moderate to high transmission of the disease.
The GAVI vaccine alliance, a global public-private partnership, will examine in December whether and how the vaccination program should be funded.
“As we saw with the COVID vaccine, if there is political will, there are also funds available to ensure vaccines are scaled to the required level,” said Kate O’Brien, WHO director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologics .
A source familiar with planning the vaccine development said the price per dose has not yet been set but will be confirmed after GAVI’s funding decision and once there is clear demand.
For Dr. Rose Jalong’o, a vaccination specialist at the Kenyan Ministry of Health, said the WHO’s decision had personal significance.
“I suffered from malaria as a child and during my internship and clinical years I was caring for children in the hospital for severe malaria who needed a blood transfusion and unfortunately some of them died,” she said.
“It’s a disease that I grew up with, and when I’ve seen all of this in my life, it’s an exciting time.”