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Explained: How Does the New Malaria Vaccine Work and Why It is Important

It will NOT be used outside Africa, as it can't protect against the different forms of malaria in other countries.

Updated
Health News
3 min read
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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday, 7 October, endorsed the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine, also known as Mosquirix, the first vaccine against the mosquito-borne disease.

The decision came after a review of a pilot programme, which was deployed in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019, in which more than two million doses of the vaccine were given.

We bring to you what all we know about the vaccine so far. Read on.

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Malaria Responsible for Over 4,00,000 Deaths Every Year

Malaria mainly kills babies and infants. According to WHO, a child dies from malaria every two minutes. There are 229 million cases of malaria every year, and 94 per cent come from Africa alone. The disease is also responsible for the death of more than 4,00,000 people every year, WHO data further revealed.

WHO's 2019 figures further said that more than half of deaths because of malaria globally came from six sub-Saharan African countries, with almost 25 per cent of them coming from Nigeria alone.

Over 2,60,000 children had died from the disease in 2019, reported the BBC, with children under the age of five accounting for 67% of all malaria deaths worldwide.

According to WHO, India had an estimated 5.6 million malaria cases in 2019 compared to about 20 million cases in 2020, reported The Indian Express.

How Does Malaria Affect the Body?

Malaria is a parasite that spreads by the bite of blood-sucking mosquitoes. It invades and destroys the liver cells and red blood cells to reproduce. There are more than 100 types of the malaria parasite. The virus is more subtle and sophisticated than the virus which causes COVID, as per the BBC.

Immunity builds only after one is repeatedly infected, and even that only reduces the chances of becoming severely ill.

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What are the Symptoms?

Its symptoms include fever, headaches and muscle pain, then cycles of chills, fever and sweating.

How Was it Kept in Check So Far?

Drugs to kill the parasite, insecticides to kill the mosquitoes, and bednets to prevent bites are some methods employed to reduce malaria.

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How Does the Vaccine Work?

The vaccine targets the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, which is the most deadly and most common in Africa.

The vaccine is "only able to target the sporozoite form of the parasite, which is the stage between being bitten by a mosquito and the parasite getting to the liver", reported the BBC.

The vaccine is only 40 per cent effective and will not replace all other measures of controlling malaria. It will be used alongside them.

Also, the vaccine will NOT be used outside of Africa, as it can't protect against the different forms of malaria prevalent in other countries.

Why Is This Important?

The vaccine is a remarkable success and will lead the way for the development of more effective ones.

According to the BBC, the vaccine is cost-effective and does not harm other routine vaccines or measures to prevent malaria.

WHO data showed that the vaccine could prevent 4 in 10 cases of malaria and 3 in 10 severe cases.

According to Kate O'Brien, director of WHO's Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, the findings from the vaccine pilot project showed that the vaccine "significantly reduces severe malaria which is the deadly form by 30 per cent."

She said the vaccine was "feasible to deliver" and "it's also reaching the unreached... Two-thirds of children who don't sleep under a bed net in those countries are now benefiting from the vaccine," she said, as per AFP.

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said Wednesday's recommendation "offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease."

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What is the Next Step?

O'Brien says funding will be the next big step. "That will be the next major step... Then we will be set up for scaling of doses and decisions about where the vaccine will be most useful and how it will be deployed," she was quoted as saying by AFP.

According to Pedro Alonso, the WHO Global Malaria Programme director, the "estimated cost of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is over 12 billion dollars a year".

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership aiming to increase access to immunization in poor countries, said in a statement that "global stakeholders, including Gavi, will consider whether and how to finance a new malaria vaccination programme for countries in sub-Saharan Africa."

Countries That Have Eliminated Malaria

In 2019, 27 countries had reported fewer than 100 indigenous cases of malaria. This was way up from six countries in 2000.

Eleven countries have been certified as malaria-free over the last two decades by the WHO Director-General: United Arab Emirates (2007), Morocco (2010), Turkmenistan (2010), Armenia (2011), Sri Lanka (2016), Kyrgyzstan (2016), Paraguay (2018), Uzbekistan (2018), Algeria (2019), Argentina (2019), and El Salvador (2021).

(With inputs from BBC, The Indian Express and AFP)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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