The World Health Organization (WHO) has given its approval to a second malaria vaccine, potentially providing countries with a more affordable and accessible option compared to the first malaria vaccine.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the authorization of the new malaria vaccine based on the recommendations of two expert groups, particularly for its use in children at risk of the disease.
Tedros expressed his excitement over the development, acknowledging the significance of having two safe and effective malaria vaccines.
Earlier this year, regulatory authorities in Ghana and Burkina Faso had already granted approval for this vaccine.
While this additional vaccine offers a valuable tool in the fight against malaria, experts caution that it should not be seen as a replacement for existing preventive measures such as bed nets and insecticide spraying.
In 2021, WHO had endorsed the first malaria vaccine, known as Mosquirix, despite its limited effectiveness (approximately 30%), requirement for four doses, and short-lived protection.
It is worth noting that data comparing the effectiveness of the two vaccines has not yet been conclusive.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a major supporter of the first vaccine, withdrew its financial backing last year due to concerns about its efficacy.
One critical difference between the two vaccines is accessibility. The new Oxford-developed vaccine has the potential for much broader distribution compared to the GSK vaccine, which can produce limited quantities.
If widely deployed across Africa, the new vaccine could significantly reduce severe illness and deaths caused by malaria in the coming years.
However, neither of these vaccines halts the transmission of the disease, so immunization campaigns alone may not be sufficient to control malaria epidemics.
Efforts to combat malaria are further challenged by reports of increasing drug resistance and the spread of invasive mosquito species.
In a separate decision, WHO’s expert group also approved the dengue vaccine manufactured by Takeda, which had previously received approval from the European Union drug regulator.
Dengue, a mosquito-borne disease common in tropical Latin American and Asian countries, lacks a specific treatment. While most infections are mild, severe cases can lead to internal bleeding, organ damage, and death.
WHO’s expert groups recommended the use of the Takeda dengue vaccine for children aged 6 to 16 in countries with a high prevalence of the disease.
Studies have shown that Takeda’s vaccine is approximately 84% effective in preventing hospitalization due to dengue and about 61% effective in reducing symptoms four years after immunization.
Bangladesh has been grappling with a severe dengue outbreak this year, with nearly 1,000 deaths reported as a result of the disease.