Malaria: WHO green light for second vaccine
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Malaria: WHO green light for second vaccine

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday gave the green light to a second “safe and effective” vaccine for children against malaria, a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people every year.

“As a malaria researcher, I dreamed of the day when we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria. Now we have two,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference. WHO “recommends a second vaccine, called R21/Matrix-M, to prevent malaria in children at risk of contracting the disease,” following recommendations from its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) and its Malaria Policy Guidelines Group (MPAG).

Already authorized in 3 African countries
This very old disease, which if left untreated causes fever, headaches and chills to become a serious, even fatal condition, has caused 619,000 deaths worldwide in 2021. Other WHO experts are still assessing production conditions and other regulatory aspects, explained WHO director of immunization and vaccines Kate O’Brien. Once this final green light is given, UNICEF and the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) will be able to administer the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India. However, its use has already been approved by the authorities of Ghana, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. In 2021, another vaccine, RTS,S, produced by British pharmaceutical giant GSK, became the first vaccine recommended by WHO for the prevention of malaria in children in areas where transmission of the disease varies from moderate to high.

Big step forward
Both vaccines have the same level of effectiveness – about 75% when administered under the same conditions. “At $2 to $4 per dose, this vaccine is comparable to other recommended malaria treatments and other childhood vaccines,” Dr. Tedros said. So this represents “a very big step forward” for dozens of countries that want to obtain serums against this scourge, Dr. O’Brien said. By 2026, WHO and its partners expect vaccine demand to reach 60 million doses per year. This figure is expected to reach 100 million by 2030, Gavi said in a statement.

18 million doses will be available in Africa by 2025
Pilot programs to introduce RTS,S in three African countries – Ghana, Kenya and Malawi – have enabled more than 1.7 million children to receive at least one dose of the vaccine since 2019. As of July, WHO, Gavi and UNICEF jointly announced that 18 million doses of this malaria vaccine would be allocated to 12 African countries in 2023-2025. Malaria, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, remains a devastating scourge, especially for African children, particularly due to growing resistance to treatment. This is why Professor Megan Greychar from Cornell University in the US emphasizes that a vaccine alone will not be enough to eradicate the disease.

“In areas where malaria is widespread, mosquito resistance to insecticides and parasite drug resistance are undermining public health progress and making existing tools less effective,” she said.

For the expert, “having another vaccine in the arsenal is good news.” The vast majority of cases and deaths occur in Africa. “Malaria deaths have more than halved since 2000, and we have eliminated malaria in many parts of the world,” but this progress is not enough, Dr. Tedros said. WHO vaccine experts also recommended a new dengue vaccine, Qdenga, for children aged 6–16 years living in areas where the disease is a major public health problem. A new meningitis vaccine called Men5CV, which protects against the five types of bacteria that cause the disease, has also been given the green light. In the fight against Covid-19, these experts concluded that for most vaccines, a single dose is now sufficient for primary vaccination against the disease, given that most people have already been infected at least once.

Sami Nemli with agencies / Les Inspirations ECO

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