Three African countries will begin giving children the world’s first malaria vaccine as part of a large-scale pilot project. The pilot program will continue for four years to determine the viability of the vaccine and its real-world rates of protection. GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company that developed the vaccine, has announced that it will donate up to 10 million doses as part of the pilot project.
According to an announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO), Malawi has already started vaccinating children under the age of 2 years. Kenya and Ghana plan to start their pilot programs in the coming weeks. Estimates from the health agency show that about 360,000 children a year will receive the vaccination throughout the three countries.
The vaccine, RTS,S, also known as Mosquirix, is the first approved vaccine aimed at stopping a human parasite. The vaccine was developed at a cost of more than US$500 million as part of an international collaboration among WHO, PATH, GlaxoSmithKline, and several African countries. It was created by scientists in 1987 and has undergone years of testing, finally receiving approval in 2015.
Clinical trials of the vaccine found that it offers partial protection from the disease, preventing approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases. The vaccine also showed significant overall reductions in severity for those who end up contracting malaria after receiving the injection, reducing severe malaria cases by about 30 percent. WHO called the vaccine a “complementary malaria control tool” to be used in tandem with bed nets, insecticides, and widespread education about the disease.
Some are concerned that children need four doses of the vaccine for even that amount of protection. The vaccine is given in three doses between 5 months and 9 months of age, with the fourth dose administered around the 2nd birthday. For families living in rural areas, getting all four doses on time could be difficult. The pilot program is meant to uncover these types of issues so solutions can be found to make widespread adoption more feasible.