Malaria Vaccine
The World Health Organization approved the first vaccine against malaria, called RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S), in 2021 for use in children in sub-Saharan Africa.

On October 6, 2021, the World Health Organization approved the first vaccine against malaria called RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) for use in children in sub-Saharan Africa.

RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is not only the first vaccine approved against malaria but also the first vaccine against any parasitic infection. It has been developed by the British pharma company GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and is available under the trade name Mosquirix.

RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) was approved following a large-scale pilot program in Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana.

  • Over 80,000 children have been administered Mosquirix in this program since 2019. 
  • This vaccine is categorized as a “subunit” vaccine because it contains only a part of the parasite required to generate an immune response in the body.
  • This “subunit” is coupled with a substance that enhances the immune response called the adjuvant.
  • It is a lab-made protein that provokes immunity against the deadliest type of malaria parasite called Plasmodium falciparum.

Malaria is one of the major causes of childhood illnesses and deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, killing over 260,000 children younger than five years each year in the region. The malaria vaccine has created hope for developing better strategies to reduce infection and transmission, preventing sickness and deaths, and helping to eliminate it through mass vaccination campaigns.

Who is eligible for the malaria vaccine?

RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is presently approved for widespread use in children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high Plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission as defined by the World Health Organization.

It is administered in a four-dose schedule to children who are five months and older living in these areas.

How effective is the malaria vaccine?

RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) has resulted in a significant (30 percent) reduction in deadly malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum.

P. falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite worldwide and is particularly prevalent in the African region.

Reduction in severe malaria cases in vaccinated people was even significant in areas where insecticide-treated nets are widely used and have good access to diagnosis and treatment. This suggests that the malaria vaccine provides an added advantage against P. falciparum over other malaria-preventive measures.

  • Results of the phase 3 trial of the malaria vaccine have revealed that among children who received four doses, the vaccine prevented about 4 in 10 (39 percent) children with malaria and 3 in 10 (29 percent) children with severe malaria over four years.
  • Moreover, the results suggest that the vaccine efficacy has declined over time. 
  • Further studies are underway to assess the long-term efficacy of the vaccine and the need for additional dosages.

Research is being undertaken to develop better versions of the malaria vaccine that may provide higher efficacy (at least 75 percent).

Is the malaria vaccine safe?

According to available data, RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is quite safe.

More than 2.3 million doses of this vaccine have been administered in three African countries (Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana) since 2019. The vaccine has proven to be safe with no significant adverse events reported yet.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/4/2021
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.who.int/news/item/06-10-2021-who-recommends-groundbreaking-malaria-vaccine-for-children-at-risk

https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/malaria_worldwide/reduction/vaccine.html