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World Health Organization Approves First Ever Malaria Vaccine

malaria vaccine

Photo Credit: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially endorsed the first-ever vaccine to prevent malaria, marking a seismic shift in how humans deal with parasitic diseases.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that a vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline, once administered, will work with a child’s immune system to “thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa.” The publication also notes that it’s the first vaccine developed for any parasitic disease.

One of the oldest known infectious diseases, the Centers for Disease Control identifies malaria as a “serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans.” Symptoms of malaria include high fever, shaking, chills, and flu-like illness.

In the United States, there are about 2,000 cases of malaria diagnosed each year. In areas like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the disease is much more prevalent, the number of cases skyrockets into the millions. The WHO estimated that in 2019, there were 229 million clinical cases of malaria in Africa, and of the 409,000 people who died from the disease, most of them were children.

The New York Times reports that as per a study with this vaccine done last year, it “could prevent 5.4 million cases and 23,000 deaths in children younger than age 5 each year” if it were rolled out to countries with the largest volume of cases.

The vaccine’s efficacy is reportedly “about 50 percent against severe malaria in the first year” and drops “close to zero by the fourth year.”

Dr. Mary Hamel — who leads the WHO’s malaria vaccine implementation program — told the outlet that because severe malaria makes up for nearly half of malaria deaths worldwide, it is “a reliable proximal indicator of mortality.” She also added that she expects “we will see that impact” upon proper rollout.

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