GSK Malaria vaccine approved for use across Africa

Image above: Baby being vaccinated in Malaria trial

The anti-Malaria vaccine RTS,S, developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for use in a major vaccination programme for children across Africa.

GSK is a major west London employer with its headquarters in Brentford and a presence all over the world. It has carried out vaccine pilot programmes in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi over the past few years and on the basis of these, the WHO has approved the vaccine’s widespread use.

The decision is being seen as a historic milestone in the fight against disease. Malaria has been one of the biggest threats to millions of people in Africa over millennia, killing mostly babies and infants. Scientists have been working on an effective vaccine for a century.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said:

“The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control. [It] could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

In 2019, the last year for which there are figures, 260,000 children died from the disease. Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa.

Image above: Child being vaccinated in Malaria trial

The RTS,S vaccine was proven effective six years ago. The trials have shown that the programme of vaccination, which requires four doses at set intervals, can be managed effectively.  The WHO says the trials have shown a significant reduction (30%) in deadly severe malaria, even when introduced in areas where insecticide-treated nets are widely used (the most effective deterrent so far) and there is good access to diagnosis and treatment.

GSK committed to donating up to 10 million doses of the vaccine for the pilot.

The WHO also say the programme is highly cost-effective. The vaccination programme will be rolled out to children living in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission.

Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano piloted the vaccine in Ghana to assess whether mass vaccination was feasible and effective. He told the BBC’s Health and Science correspondent James Gallagher that constantly catching malaria as a child inspired him to become a doctor in Ghana.

“It was distressing, almost every week you were out of school, malaria has taken a toll on us for a long time,” he said.

Thomas Breuer, Chief Global Health Officer, GSK, said:

“GSK is proud that RTS,S, our ground-breaking malaria vaccine, developed over decades by our teams and partners, can now be made available … This long-awaited landmark decision can reinvigorate the fight against malaria in the region at a time when progress on malaria control has stalled”.

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