The world’s first malaria vaccine could add to the protection offered by mosquito nets and insecticides — the main methods used to prevent malaria in Africa — if a 2018 pilot vaccine project planned on the continent is successful.
After approving $15 million in funding, the World Health Organization (WHO) said immunizations will begin in three African countries. Africa has the highest incidence of malaria in the world, Newsweek reported.
The names of the three selected countries will be announced in the coming weeks, according to Africa Science News.
The vaccine RTS,S or Mosquirix was developed by British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. Trials conducted by the European Medicines Agency in 2015 showed that the vaccine’s effectiveness wore out over time and that a booster shot was needed.
Advanced clinical trials show that the vaccine provided partial protection against malaria in young children, but it did not protect young babies from severe malaria.
However it is the first approved shot against the mosquito-borne disease. WHO said in 2015 that RTS,S was promising, but given its limited effectiveness, it should be used only on a pilot basis before any wide-scale use, CBC Radio Canada reported.
“These pilot projects will provide the evidence we need from real-life settings to make informed decisions on whether to deploy the vaccine on a wide scale,” said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria program.
Securing funding and being able to trial the vaccine in African pilots is a milestone in the fight against malaria, Alonso said.
The vaccine targets the P. falciparum malarial parasite, the one most common in sub-Saharan Africa and the deadlier of the two.
Sub-Saharan Africans suffer disproportionately from malaria. In 2015, about 90 percent of the cases and deaths happened there. There were approximately 214 million cases of malaria in 2015, resulting in 438,000 deaths, according to the WHO, Newsweek reported.
Mortality rates from malaria have fallen 60 percent over the last 15 years, with new cases falling by about 37 percent thanks to advances by the global health community, according to an October 2015 report by the WHO and UNICEF.
The vaccine’s development was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plus several African research centers. In January, Gates and the British government promised $4.3 billion to eradicate malaria over the next five years.
Earlier this year, the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and UNITAID announced commitments of up to $27.5 million and $9.6 million respectively for the first four years of the program.
The RTS,S vaccine showed an initial protection rate of around 31-to 56 percent, depending on the age of the patient, although effectiveness seems to decline after the first year, PM Live reported.
Another malaria vaccine, PfSPZ, developed by U.S. biopharmaceutical company Sanaria showed better protection rates — as high as 80 percent — and longer-lasting protection of at least 14 months.
Used with bed nets and insecticides, GSK said the malaria vaccine could provide a “very meaningful contribution to controlling the impact of malaria on children in those African communities that need it the most.”