Wednesday May 22, 2019

Malawi Becomes First Country to Initiate Immunizing Children against Malaria

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and was approved by the European Medicines Agency in 2015

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malaria vaccines
FILE - Malaria drugs are seen on display in a privately owned pharmacy in Blantyre, Malawi. (L. Masina/VOA).

The World Health Organization says Malawi has become the first country to begin immunizing children against malaria, using the only licensed vaccine to protect against the mosquito-spread disease.

Although the vaccine only protects about one-third of children who are immunized, those who get the shots are likely to have less severe cases of malaria. The parasitic disease kills about 435,000 people every year, the majority of them children under 5 in Africa.

“It’s an imperfect vaccine but it still has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives,” said Alister Craig, dean of biological sciences at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who was not linked to WHO or to the vaccine. Craig said immunizing the most vulnerable children during peak malaria seasons could spare many thousands of children from falling ill with malaria or even dying.

malawi, malaria
“It’s an imperfect vaccine but it still has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives,” said Alister Craig, dean of biological sciences at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. VOA

The World Health Organization says Malawi has become the first country to begin immunizing children against malaria, using the only licensed vaccine to protect against the mosquito-spread disease.

Although the vaccine only protects about one-third of children who are immunized, those who get the shots are likely to have less severe cases of malaria. The parasitic disease kills about 435,000 people every year, the majority of them children under 5 in Africa.

“It’s an imperfect vaccine but it still has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives,” said Alister Craig, dean of biological sciences at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who was not linked to WHO or to the vaccine. Craig said immunizing the most vulnerable children during peak malaria seasons could spare many thousands of children from falling ill with malaria or even dying.

malawi, malaria
The vaccine, known as Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and was approved by the European Medicines Agency in 2015. Pixabay

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Craig noted one of health officials’ biggest challenges could be convincing parents to bring their children for repeated doses of a vaccine that only protects about a third of children for a limited amount of time. More commonly used vaccines, like those for polio and measles, work more than 90 percent of the time.

“This malaria vaccine is going to save many lives, even if it is not as good as we would like,” Craig said. “But I hope this will kick-start other research efforts so that the story doesn’t end here.” (VOA)

Next Story

WHO Launches World’s First Malaria Vaccine, Now Working on Vaccines Against Cancer

“Vaccines are one of the greatest inventions of humankind,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine

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malaria vaccine
A medical worker at Likuni Community Hospital, in Lilongwe, Malawai draws the malaria vaccine into a syringe for vaccination. VOA

This year, during World Immunization Week, the World Health Organization launched the world’s first malaria vaccine. Scientists are also testing a vaccine for HIV, and they are working on vaccines against cancer.

“Vaccines are one of the greatest inventions of humankind,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Global vaccination programs have ended smallpox, and they are closing in on polio, a disease that used to paralyze 350,000 people each year. Because of a global immunization program, that number now stands at 20. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last remaining countries where the polio virus is still spreading.

Break the chains

Diseases like smallpox, polio and measles can only be transmitted from one person to another. Dr. Walter Orenstein from the Emory Vaccine Center says that’s why they can be wiped off the face of the earth.

“If you can break the chains of human to human transmission, you can eradicate the disease,” he said. “That’s how smallpox was eradicated.”

Malaria vaccine

Most of the diseases that can be prevented through vaccines are caused by viruses — think measles, mumps or chickenpox. But the most exciting news during World Immunization Week is about a vaccine against the parasite that causes malaria.

malaria vaccines
A doctor assists people looking for treatment for malaria at a health center in San Felix, Venezuela. VOA

Dr. Pedro Alonso of the World Health Organization said Malawi, Ghana and Kenya will begin giving malaria vaccines to children in the coming weeks.

“This is the first vaccine against the human malaria parasite. Parasites are really complex organisms, much more so than a virus or a bacteria. And that’s why it has taken 30 years to develop this first vaccine,” he said.

Cancer and HIV

Vaccines can already protect against two types of cancer: cervical and oral cancers caused by the human papilloma virus and liver cancer caused by the hepatitis B virus. Now scientists are working to develop vaccines against breast cancer and other deadly cancers.

malaria vaccines
FILE – Malaria drugs are seen on display in a privately owned pharmacy in Blantyre, Malawi. (L. Masina/VOA).

And then there’s HIV. HIV vaccine trials are going on in South Africa, and research is being done to develop an antibody-based HIV vaccine.

ALSO READ: Malawi Becomes First Country to Initiate Immunizing Children against Malaria

Dr. Carl Dieffenbach is a specialist in HIV at the National Institutes of Health. He says anti-AIDS drugs have already made a huge difference in controlling the epidemic. “We put a vaccine on top of that, too, it’s not just stopping the epidemic. It’s ending the epidemic,” he said.

A world free from these diseases will be a world where more people can raise healthy children, earn a living and get out of poverty. It would be a world where not only people, but countries could prosper. (VOA)