WHO Confirms Pilot Deployment of First-Generation Malaria Vaccine in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Malaria takes its highest toll in Africa where 88 percent of all the world’s cases occurred in 2015. The World Health Organization reported that about 90 percent of all malaria deaths happen in the African Region.

Beginning in 2018, WHO will begin pilot tests of the RTS,S vaccine for malaria in three yet-to-be-selected countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Preference will be given to countries that have already participated in clinical trials, countries where malaria is a significant health problem and countries that have a solid programs for immunization and malaria prevention in place. These preventive measures include spraying with pesticides, using insecticide-treated nets, protecting pregnant women and infants and using diagnostic tests to confirm malaria before beginning treatment.

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The upcoming testing is the final step leading to licensing and rolling out the malaria vaccine on a large scale. Even after several decades of research by drug manufacturers, there is no licensed vaccine for malaria. RTS.S, sometimes referred to as Mosquirix, was developed as a result of a collaboration between GlaxoSmith Biologicals of Brentford, UK and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. Both entities were aided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a group of African research centers that performed previous tests.

This phase of pilot testing will evaluate how easily the four required doses can be given, how many lives the vaccine saves, how well it protects children ages five to 17 months and whether it’s implicated in cases of meningitis or cerebral malaria. Funding will come from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNITAID and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, which was founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Results of an Earlier Trial

The vaccine has been tested in previous clinical trials, the most recent one undertaken from March 2009 to the end of January 2011 at 11 centers in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa. More than15,000 children in two age groups were participants: infants between the ages of 6 and 12 weeks and older children who are between 5 and 17 months. The children were given shots and evaluated a year after they received a third dose. Results state that the vaccine was partially effective in the older group that experienced a 56 percent drop in malaria cases. In the infant group, there was a 31 percent reduction in malaria cases.

Suspected Side Effects of the Malaria Vaccine

The older group had 21 cases of meningitis in 5,948 children and one in the control group of 2,974. Though RTS,S is not as effective as some vaccines that treat other diseases, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization and the Malaria Policy Advisory Committee gave the green light for it to be administered older children for this upcoming testing. The experts were not in favor of using Mosquirix on children 6-14 weeks of age because it was not highly effective.

The controversy about vaccinating young children was raised by two scientists at the Institute of Science in Society about 2009. Mae-Wan Ho and Joe Cummins questioned the decision to give several vaccinations to very young children. They were also put off by the side effects and, like the professionals mention previously, the unimpressive effectiveness of the malaria vaccine.

Doctors, scientists, health officials and parents in the affected nations will be waiting for the results of the impending testing phase. The WHO noted that some infants only got seizures after the fourth dose. However, the organization concluded in its article “Questions and answers on RTS,S/ASO1 malaria vaccine” that “there were no long-lasting consequences due to any of the febrile seizures [convulsions].”

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