On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the launch of a vaccine pilot for malaria in the country of Malawi. Malawi is the first of three African countries, including Ghana and Kenya, which will introduce the vaccine known as RTS,S to children of up to two years of age. Each year, malaria kills 435,000 people worldwide, the majority of them being African children. Additionally, according to the WHO’s press release for the vaccine, the disease claims the life of one child every two minutes.
Statistics as staggering as these mean the challenge to eliminate such a deadly disease is a critical one for both public health officials and biomedical researchers alike. It may come as no surprise, then, that the health care industry is choosing to proceed with caution in moving forward with the vaccine’s release, one that demonstrates an effectiveness of only 39%. RTS,S, which has been under development for over 30 years, offers a “partial protection” from malaria, preventing approximately 4 in 10 cases. It was tested in a Phase III clinical trial in seven African countries from 2009-2014, with data collected from approximately 15,500 infants. Despite questions over its effectiveness and the ability of the trial’s results to be replicated in “routine health systems”, the WHO ultimately recommended the pilot implementation of RTS,S in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality.
Kate O’Brien, Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals at the WHO, described the RTS,S launch as a “landmark moment.” The vaccine, she stated, is the first “to reach children in Africa through a routine immunization program, not through a clinical trial.” The outcome and potential success of the pilot launch for RTS,S, therefore, will not only impact the quality of health care in sub-Saharan Africa, but the pathway for which healthcare solutions are provided to impoverished countries with limited access to quality medical care.
With a success rate of only 39%, do you feel the implementation of this vaccine is an appropriate initiative by the WHO? Share your thoughts below!Administering Flu Vaccine via photopin (license)