After decades of development and testing the world's first malaria vaccine is beginning a wide roll out, commencing in Malawi before being introduced into Ghana and Kenya over the following weeks. This initial pilot program is aimed at children up to two years of age, with over one million expected to be immunized over the next three years.
Over 250,000 children die from malaria in Africa every year. The infection is inarguably a major global health problem, and for years scientists have been working on an effective vaccine. RTS,S/AS01, currently the most advanced malaria vaccine in development, was originally created back in the late 1980s. After extensive and rigorous clinical work the final tests and trialling were completed just a few years ago.
The vaccine has been shown to prevent nearly 40 percent of malaria cases. While this isn't an extraordinarily efficacious rate for a vaccine, the potential for reducing the sadly high mortality rates in some African areas makes even that mild efficacy profoundly lifesaving.
"Malaria is still one of the biggest killers of children worldwide, taking the lives of over 200,000 children every year," explains Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, an alliance formed to help deliver vaccines to lower-income countries. "These pilots will be crucial to determine the part this vaccine could play in reducing the burden this disease continues to place on the world's poorest countries."
This initial pilot program is estimated to run until around 2024, after which the results will be evaluated and broader implementation in other countries will be considered. GSK, the company behind the development of the vaccine, has donated up to 10 million doses for this pilot project.
The schedule for this particular vaccine is not especially ideal, as it needs to be administered once a month for three months between the ages of five and nine months, before a booster around the child's 2nd birthday. It is yet to be seen whether this kind of schedule can be effectively delivered to children in poor and remote communities.
However, RTS,S/AS01 is just the first wave of malaria vaccines on the horizon. GSK is working on newer more effective iterations of this specific vaccine, while other projects being developed are reporting incredible early stage success rates. One vaccine in particular, currently moving through human trials, is reporting incredible protection rates of 100 percent with no adverse side effects.