The new jab prevents 30% of severe cases of malaria, even in areas with high uptake of other measures, such as bed nets impregnated with insecticide.
The first vaccine against malaria could be rolled out to billions of people after key advisers to the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave it the green light.
Experts on the WHO’s advisory bodies for immunisation and malaria concluded the vaccine Mosquirix could save tens of thousands of lives every year.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said he had started his career as a malaria researcher and had “longed for the day that we would have an effective vaccine against this ancient and terrible disease”.
“This long-awaited malaria vaccine is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control. Using this vaccine in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”Advertisement
The vaccine is now expected to get the nod from WHO itself and funding for millions of doses will then be considered by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which ensures low-income countries have access to life-saving jabs.
Malaria vaccine already saving lives of African children
Meanwhile, Gavi along with global health agency Unitaid and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have welcomed WHO’s recommendation, adding that it “marks a historic achievement in our fight against malaria”.
The decision by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group to back widespread deployment follows a pilot roll-out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
More than 800,000 children in the three countries have been given at least one dose of the vaccine since 2019 as part of the normal childhood immunisation programme
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, said: “Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent.
“We expect many more African children will be protected from malaria and grow into healthy and productive adults.”
The real-world test of the jab showed it prevented 30% of severe cases of malaria even in areas with high uptake of other measures, such as bed nets impregnated with insecticide.
It also proved safe, with high acceptance by families.
Malaria resulted in 409,000 deaths in 2019, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
The disease kills one child every two minutes.
Mosquirix acts against Plasmodium falciparum, which is carried by the Anopheles mosquito and is the deadliest of all the malaria parasites.
Developing a vaccine has proved a major challenge because the parasite is far more complex than a virus or bacteria.
The vaccine primes the immune system to fight the malaria parasite the moment it’s been injected into the blood by a mosquito bite.
ANALYSIS BY THOMAS MOORE, SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT
Forget lions, tigers and sharks. It’s the tiny mosquito that kills more people than any other creature.
The insect is a flying incubator of viruses and parasites – and the most feared of all is Plasmodium falciparum.
The organism is just a single cell, protozoa, but it’s far more complex than a bacteria or virus. It takes on several forms in its shape-shifting life cycle that flits from mosquitoes to humans and back again.
For vaccine developers, it has proved an elusive foe. It’s able to slip past the immune system by using a combination of stealth and deception.