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WHO recommends malaria vaccine RTS,S

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on October 07, 2021

The vaccine is recommended in children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission

At a time vaccine efforts are focussed on Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) has made a historic recommendation on a malaria vaccine.

The agency has recommended the use of the malaria vaccine RTS,S, in children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. The recommendation is based on an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that covered more than 800 000 children since 2019.

The vaccine is a result of 30 years of research and development by British company GlaxoSmithKline through partnership with PATH and support from a network of African research centres. India’s Bharat Biotech will play a key role too, in bolstering supply of the vaccine to the region.

This January, GSK, PATH, and Bharat Biotech had announced formalising a product transfer agreement for the malaria vaccine. “The agreement includes the transfer of manufacturing of the

RTS,S antigen part of the vaccine and the grant of a license on all rights pertaining to the

RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine to BBIL. GSK will retain the production of the adjuvant of the vaccine (AS01E) and will supply it to BBIL,”the note had said.

GSK has donated upto 10 million doses of the vaccine for the pilot. The BB agreement builds on this to supply up to 15 million doses annually until 2028 if the product is recommended for wider use by WHO, the note had then said. “It is expected that by 2029, at the latest, BBIL will be the sole supplier of the vaccine, with GSK supplying the adjuvant AS01E to them,”they added.

Though India too has a high malaria burden, the latest vaccine is unlikely to have a local implication, as the vaccine is tailored to the strains in Africa, a person familiar with the development told Business Line.

Recommendation

The vaccine resulted in 30 percent reduction in deadly severe malaria, and the recommended schedule involves four doses in children, from 5 months. Till date, more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the three African countries.

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the long-awaited malaria vaccine for children was a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control. “Using this vaccine on top of existing  tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” he added.

Malaria is a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260 000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually. More recently, health agencies have been seeing a stagnation in progress against the disease.

Funding decisions

The WHO-recommended malaria vaccine will now require funding decisions from the global health community for broader rollout, besides local decisions to adopt the vaccine into national malaria control strategies.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided catalytic funding for late-stage development of RTS,S between 2001 and 2015. The pilot programme had been funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid.

Published on October 07, 2021

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