World’s First Malaria Vaccine to Africa

Credit: NPR

Credit: NPR

Haley Hartner, News Editor

The world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS,S, or Mosquirix, will be sent to the African countries of Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi in a pilot study to test its efficacy of preventing malaria in young children.  

Close to 360,000 children a year will receive the vaccination in these sub-Saharan countries where malaria is most prevalent, per the recommendation of the World Health Organization.

While specific locations for which the vaccine will be administered in Kenya have yet to be announced, Malawi started its first round of what will be routine immunizations the week of April 25th.  Ghana will begin immunizations on April 30th.

Being that RTS,S only offers partial protection from the disease, it must be met with other methods of prevention.  The vaccine will be integrated into pre-existing health care regimens, regarded as a “complementary malaria control tool,” in addition to the use of bed nets, insecticides, and diagnosis techniques.

While the introduction of RTS,S is considered a “major milestone in vaccine development,” the question still remains as to whether the vaccine will be successful in real-world situations as well as clinical trials, and whether making the vaccine a part of routine Malaria treatments is actually feasible.

In a five-year Phase 3 study conducted by the WHO, it was found that the vaccine prevented about 40% of clinical Malaria cases and about 30% of severe cases for children aged 5-17 months in sub-Saharan African countries.  It also reduced overall hospital admissions and the need for blood transfusions for Malaria-related Anemia by 29%.

The problem lies in the fact that the efficacy of RTS,S is not nearly as high as the vaccines for other diseases.  

According to William Moss, director of the International Vaccine Access Center, it is estimated that “one life would be saved for every 200 children who are vaccinated.”

Another issue exists in regards to the feasibility of administering four doses of the vaccine in accordance with a specified vaccination schedule- the first dose being administered as soon as possible after the child reaches five months of age, with doses two and three given at monthly intervals and dose four at no later than two years of age.

It is expected that parents in the countries that carry a heavier burden of Malaria may have challenges bringing their children in for all four doses of the vaccine.

However, with Malaria’s consistent high mortality rate, causing over 435,000 worldwide deaths each year, and its expected resurgence, having RTS,S as an addition to current preventative measures serves an advantage more than anything.  

This malaria vaccine implementation programme, MVIP, will continue until 2022, and the success of the vaccine and research gathered during this pilot study will determine whether it will be administered globally.