By now, the world is gasping together at the roll-out of a vaccine to prevent malaria among children. The origin of this shock, however, is what varies. For some, the amazement comes from the prospect of a novel preventative tool that sounds like it will be a leading soldier in the fight against malaria. Still, others who know of its low protection rate (about 39%) gasp in shock that this tool is being used at all.
The RTS,S vaccine or Mosquirix is not entirely a novel device. Like any other medical tool, it has undergone several years of clinical study. Discussion about Mosquirix in the public sphere first came into fruition around 2009, when its phase III trials began in eight African countries and lasted until 2014. The vaccine has been shown to protect young children by reducing the incidence of severe malaria and anemia from the Plasmodium falciparumparasite that resides in the Anopheles gambiae mosquito found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Some may view the focus on sub-Saharan Africa as too narrow, but when over 90% of all malaria-associated deaths occur in this region (2016), there is no longer any question as to why a specific tool is needed.
So what do we know about Mosquirix? Only about 39% of children given this vaccine were actually protected from malaria in phase III trials. Although this may come as a blow to many who were hoping on an 80% or even 90% efficacy rate, Mosquirix is the only vaccine that the scientific community is aware of that has such coverage. Relatively, then, this solution is our best shot (literally and figuratively). Nevertheless, some would say that the risk of giving thousands of children a vaccine that health providers know will not protect the majority of them is not worth it. One side-effect was the development of meningitis in children who were given the vaccine, but worth noting is the lack of association between the vaccine and meningitis in these children. More studies will be conducted on side-effects in phase IV of clinical trials.
For now, the public needs to just wait and see how the plan to vaccinate 360,000 children per year turns out. Having this vaccine has already done some good: it has sparked discussion in communities. And where there is attention, there are more minds thinking of and people seeking out ways to protect their families from acquiring this deadly disease.
Moran, N. First malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, enters routine immunization pilot. (2019). BioWorld. http://www.bioworld.com/content/first-malaria-vaccine-mosquirix-enters-routine-immunization-pilot
World Health Organization. Malaria. (2017). WHO. https://www.afro.who.int/health-topics/malaria