UN experts approve first malaria vaccine in major breakthrough

London: The World Health Organisation has recommended that the world’s first malaria vaccine be given to children across Africa, in a move officials hope will spur stalled efforts to curb the spread of the parasitic disease.

Following a meeting of the United Nations health agency’s vaccine advisory group, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of “a historic moment”.

Young children in the Malawi village of Tomali were test subjects for the world’s first vaccine against malaria, which has now been approved by the WHO. Credit:AP

“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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s Africa director.

The WHO said its decision was based on results from ongoing research in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that had tracked more than 800,000 children since 2019.

The malaria vaccine known as Mosquirix was developed by GlaxoSmithKline in 1987. While it’s the first to be authorised, it is only about 30 per cent effective, requires up to four doses, and protection fades after just months.

Still, given the extremely high burden of malaria in Africa – where the majority of the world’s more than 200 million cases a year and 400,000 deaths occur – scientists say the vaccine could still have a major impact.

“This is a huge step forward,” said Julian Rayner, director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, who was not part of the WHO decision.

“It’s an imperfect vaccine, but it will still stop hundreds of thousands of children from dying.“

Rayner said that the vaccine’s impact on the spread of the mosquito-borne disease was still unclear, but pointed to the coronavirus vaccines as an encouraging example.

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