The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that the new malaria vaccine will be tested in the field next year. The vaccine obtained approval from WHO, and the organization wants the vaccine to be tested in real-world settings.

The announcement was made on World Malaria Day’s eve. WHO noted that the vaccines will be tested in selected areas in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.

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Over 429,000 people lost their lives to malaria in 2015, and hundreds of people contract the disease every year. decrease.

The WHO approves trial program for new malaria vaccine

The injectable vaccine, called RTS, S, was developed to protect children from malaria, and the vaccine will be incorporated into a complementary malaria tool, which if proven effective will be added into WHO-recommended measures to prevent the disease. The vaccine needs to be administered four times, once a month for three months and a fourth dose 18 months later.

“The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, according to a news release in WHO’s website. “Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”

According to WHO, there has been a significant decrease in people dying from the disease. As from 2000 to 2015, there was a 62 percent reduction in malaria-related deaths and a 21 percent decrease in the number of cases. Fewer deaths have been reported due to better mosquito control, and people having gained awareness regarding the disease, as well as an ongoing effort to get the needed medicine to the right populations, experts say.

Image credit: D. Poland / PATH / Science Magazine
Image credit: D. Poland / PATH / Science Magazine

However, there are gaps in prevention coverage in several regions. The sub-Saharan region in Africa is one of the most affected, as 43 percent of people at risk for malaria don’t have access to mosquito protection such as bed nets or bug spray.

Africa is the most affected continent by malaria in the world. Of the 429,000 people who died from the disease in 2015, the majority were young children. The WHO pilot program hopes to assess whether the vaccine’s effect in children aged between 5 and 17 months old during Phase III testing can be replicated in real life.

“Specifically, the pilot program will assess the feasibility of delivering the required four doses of RTS, S, the vaccine’s potential role in reducing childhood deaths, and its safety in the context of routine use,” noted WHO in its press release.

GSK developed the vaccine in 1987, and it’s the first malaria injection vaccine that has successfully completed a Phase III clinical trial. Such trial was conducted between 2009 and 2014 as a conjoint effort between GSK, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and an African research network involving seven African countries. In the trial, the vaccine was administered to 11,000 children in sub-Saharan Africa, and it decreased mortality by 50 percent.

Vaccine is hoped to prevent against deadliest string of malaria

The three selected countries to test the vaccine were chosen based on high coverage of long-lasting insecticidal treated nets (LLINs), functioning malaria and immunization programs and the countries’ participation in the Phase III RTS, S, malaria vaccine trial. Each of the countries will decide which regions will be included in the pilot. High malaria burden areas will be a priority, as WHO expects such regions will benefit the most from the vaccine.

“This is great news, actually,” said Dr. Photini Sinnis, deputy director at the John Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, and on the first GSK scientists that worked on developing the vaccine, according to CNN. “At the time, no one thought this would really work. Scientists are skeptical people.”

According to Sinnis, developing the vaccine was no easy task because of the biological complexity of the malaria parasite. Sinnis believes that the vaccine will help thousands of children throughout the continent.

The vaccine will be administered via intramuscular injection and will be delivered throughout the routine national immunization programs. The WHO is closely working with Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi to facilitate regulatory authorization of the malaria vaccine for use in the pilot programs through the African Vaccine Regulatory Forum (AVAREF).

The pilot program is being funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Unitaid, the WHO, and GSK. The newest malaria vaccine is hoped to prevent young children from the deadliest known form of malaria, called Plasmodium falciparum. Other preventing methods are available for children, but according to WHO, the uptake is slow. Such program is currently being implemented in Sierra Leone.

Source: CNN