Malaria vaccine could save thousands of kids every year

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A person holds two vials of the new malaria vaccine

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced its recommendation for widespread use of the first-ever malaria vaccine.

The move gives a green light to a vaccine that has the potential to prevent hundreds of millions of cases of malaria and thousands of deaths in children worldwide each year.

It’s the first time a vaccine will be rolled out to combat infection caused by a parasite, rather than a virus.

Malaria is a serious mosquito-borne infection, caused by a parasite that passes through mosquito bites into humans, that is found across broad geographic regions of the world, but is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2019, there were 229 million cases of malaria globally and 409,000 deaths, mostly affecting children who live in the sub-Saharan African nations where rates of malaria are especially high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As part of a pilot program, more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline and called Mosquirix, have already been administered to over 800,000 children in three countries—Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana, all of which are places where malaria is rampant. The vaccine is given in three doses to children between 5 and 17 months of age, followed by a fourth dose about 18 months later.

Infectious disease expert Davidson Hamer, a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University’s School of Public Health and School of Medicine, and a faculty member at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), has treated patients with malaria and has worked to help improve tropical disease control strategies in countries around the world.

He helped run the Boston University Malaria Project (ZAMBUMP) between 2001-2005, which helped strengthen surveillance programs to reduce malaria in Zambia and to establish the most effective treatment and prevention guidelines for the region’s doctors and patients. He has also worked closely with the WHO to research and improve public health guidelines for other serious illnesses around the world.

Here, Hamer explains what the vaccine means for global health, how it could save countless children’s lives, and why he still has a few concerns:

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