Despite a Game-Changing Vaccine, the Fight Against Malaria Isn’t Over

Despite a Game-Changing Vaccine, the Fight Against Malaria Isn’t Over
A mother holds her baby receiving a malaria vaccine as part of a trial at the Walter Reed Project Research Center in Kombewa, western Kenya, Oct. 30, 2009 (AP photo by Karel Prinsloo).

No animal on the planet is responsible for more death than the mosquito. They may lack the shark’s sharp teeth, the snake’s poisonous bite or the crocodile’s powerful jaws, but they carry parasites that cause malaria, which sickened 229 million people and killed more than 400,000 in 2019 alone. Reducing the prevalence of malaria has long been a top global health priority, but mosquitos’ ability to develop resistance to insecticides and the emergence of new drug-resistant strains of the disease have continually stymied treatment and prevention efforts.

Humans may have finally found a way to fight back. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization officially approved the first-ever malaria vaccine, Mosquirix. Developed by the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, or GSK, the vaccine is intended for use in children and specifically targets Plasmodium falciparum, the single-celled parasite that causes the most dangerous strain of malaria. It is also the most prevalent form of the disease in Africa, where an estimated 94 percent of malaria deaths occur.

The WHO’s approval of Mosquirix comes after two years of pilot tests in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who began his medical career as a malaria researcher, called it a “historic day.” 

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