The World Health Organization (WHO) has given its approval for a second malaria vaccine, offering countries a potentially more cost-effective and accessible alternative to the initial vaccine against the parasitic disease.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the authorization of the new malaria vaccine on Monday. This decision was based on the recommendations of two expert groups, which advised its use in children who are at risk of contracting the disease.
Tedros expressed his enthusiasm for this development, stating, “As a malaria researcher, I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria. Now we have two.”
Earlier in the year, regulatory authorities in Ghana and Burkina Faso had already approved this vaccine.
However, it’s essential to note that this newly approved vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford, is seen as a valuable addition to the tools available for combating malaria, but it is not expected to replace established measures such as bed nets and insecticide spraying in the fight against malaria.
John Johnson of Doctors Without Borders, who was not part of the WHO expert group that granted approval to the Oxford vaccine, emphasized, “This is not the vaccine that’s going to stop malaria.”
In 2021, WHO endorsed the first malaria vaccine, known as Mosquirix and produced by GSK, in an effort to combat the disease’s devastating impact, particularly in Africa, which has the highest number of cases and deaths from malaria. However, Mosquirix is only around 30% effective, requires four doses, and provides limited long-term protection.
While it’s not yet clear which of the two vaccines (GSK or Oxford-developed) is more effective, one significant difference between them is access. The Oxford vaccine, if widely distributed across Africa, has the potential to make a substantial impact on reducing severe illness and deaths from malaria in the coming years.
Both malaria vaccines do not prevent transmission of the disease, and immunization campaigns alone will not be sufficient to eliminate malaria. Efforts to combat malaria face challenges such as drug resistance and the spread of invasive mosquito species.
In a separate decision, WHO’s expert group also authorized the use of a dengue vaccine produced by Takeda, which had previously received approval from the European Union drug regulator.
Dengue is prevalent in tropical Latin American and Asian countries, and while most infections are mild, severe cases can lead to internal bleeding, organ damage, and death. The Takeda dengue vaccine is recommended for use in children aged 6 to 16 in countries with a high prevalence of the disease. Studies have shown it to be approximately 84% effective in preventing hospitalizations due to dengue and about 61% effective in reducing symptoms four years after vaccination.
An ongoing dengue epidemic in Bangladesh has resulted in nearly 1,000 deaths this year, marking the country’s worst outbreak of the disease.