Vaccine for malaria now in development

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The WHO recommended the use of the RTS, S/AS01 malaria vaccine for children in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas with high malaria transmission in a press release on Oct. 6. This vaccine is a ground-breaking new preventative measure for malaria that is showing promising results in clinical trials.

According to the World Health Organization, the malaria parasite is one of the leading causes of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. The parasite, carried by mosquitos and transmitted to humans, leads to millions of deaths every year. There are insecticides that can be used to kill the mosquito hosts, and nets can be draped over beds to prevent people from being bitten, but these preventive measures are not always effective. 

“I think that it’s a good idea (to distribute this vaccine) as Protozoal infections are hard to fight because we share similar characteristics in our cellular makeup,” said David McKenna, sophomore nursing student.

The WHO press release noted that there has not been significant research or scientific progress in stopping this disease in the last several years. 

However, this vaccination program could save millions of lives if it continues to be effective.

“This is a historic moment,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, in the press release. “The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control. Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

The pilot programs for this vaccine have been effective in preventing the disease while also preserving the preventative effects of insecticides and anti-mosquito nets, according to the WHO. 

For those who cannot afford insecticides and mosquito nets, however, this vaccine will be immensely helpful in preventing malaria transmission.

“This vaccine will help us, as public health professionals, to eliminate the inequalities and death rates amongst these populations, and amongst those who do not have access to mosquito nets,” said Dr. Ogbochi McKinney, associate professor of public health, director of the master’s in public health program and director of practice experience. 

Another benefit of this vaccine, WHO noted, is that it is easy to deliver and readily available to many. They saw that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients were able to gain access to the vaccine. Many pediatric patients who did not have access to mosquito nets were also able to access this vaccine and thus receive protection from the parasite for the first time.

“The vaccine, to me, looks promising from what we’ve seen during the clinical trials,” McKinney said. “My only prayer and hope is that some of the challenges that we have seen in the past when it comes to rolling out vaccination programs will be addressed early.”

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