The World Health Organization has given the green light to the world's first malaria vaccine. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of WHO called it a "historic moment" for the organization and global health community.
"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,” WHO Africa Director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti told ABC News.
According to ABC News, WHO has distributed the vaccine to more than 800,000 children across Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019. The results of the last two years has provided researchers with a sense of optimism moving forward.
“It’s an imperfect vaccine, but it will still stop hundreds of thousands of children from dying," Julian Rayner of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research said.
“The last two years have given us a very nuanced understanding of how important vaccines are in saving lives and reducing hospitalizations, even if they don’t directly reduce transmission."
Moving forward, healthcare providers plan to distribute the vaccine to more children across the continent. If distribution efforts are successful, countries impacted by malaria may see a 30% reduction in the spread of the disease. This equates to 8 million fewer malaria cases and 40,000 fewer deaths per year.
“For people not living in malaria countries, a 30% reduction might not sound like much. But for the people living in those areas, malaria is one of their top concerns,” Azra Ghani of the Imperial College in London explained to ABC News.
“A 30% reduction will save a lot of lives and will save mothers (from) bringing in their children to health centers and swamping the health system.”
While healthcare providers expand distribution efforts for the vaccine, researchers continue to work on a second-generation malaria vaccine. Efforts to produce such a vaccine have been propelled by the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Health professionals hope to use the messenger RNA technology used to develop COVID-19 vaccines to evolve the first-generation malaria vaccine.
“We’ve seen much higher antibody levels from the mRNA vaccines, and they can also be adapted very quickly,” Ghani said.
“It’s impossible to say how that may affect a malaria vaccine, but we definitely need new options to fight it.”