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Biting the mosquito: World’s first malaria vaccine is here

By Melede Ganoy

PHOTO: Today Wizard

Water scarcity and a scorching desert is a picture commonly tied at the mention of Africa — but so is malaria.

Mosquitoes cause malaria by the pathogen they carry with the deadliest being Plasmodium falciparum. The culprit manifests itself through fever, chills, muscle aches, and nausea. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the parasitic disease reaps 500,000 lives yearly with Africans in the highest percentile of the statistic. Children are the primary victims of malaria especially those under the age of five whose age group contributes 260,000 in the half million deaths.

The last century spent trying to develop a vaccine for malaria proves that it is a complex task. Malaria is an old illness; and due to its parasitic origins, coming up with a vaccine is more difficult than diseases caused by bacteria or viruses. Thankfully, Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline developed Mosquirix, the name for the vaccine with 50% efficacy rate versus life-threatening malaria. Four doses are required to achieve promised immunity and primary recipients are children from 5 months of age and above. 

Being WHO-approved, Mosquirix has been distributed in three African countries with 2.3 million doses jabbed. The numbers lived up to the vaccine’s promise and showed a 30% decrease in severe cases. A huge statistic, considering that malaria can infect a person up to a painful six times a year. 

WHO released news of Mosquirix on October 6, 2021 and it is the first vaccine against a parasitic disease — a breakthrough celebrated by the health community. “This is a historic moment. The long-anticipated malaria vaccine for children is an upturn for science, child health and malaria control,” remarked WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

Disclaimer though, the vaccine is to be used inside Africa only, as Mosquirix may not be compatible with other types of the malaria-carrying parasite from other countries.

Africa is not just a place associated with water scarcity and dry plains — it is now the first continent to bite the mosquito.