The World Health Organization WHO said on Wednesday the only approved vaccine against malaria should be widely given to African children, marking a major advance against a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people annually.
WHO recommendation is for RTS, S, sold as “Mosquirix”, a vaccine developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline.
Since 2019, 2.3 million doses of Mosquirix have been administered to infants in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in a large-scale pilot program coordinated by the WHO.
The majority of those whom the disease kills are aged under five.
That program followed a decade of clinical trials in seven African countries.
Malaria is far more deadly than COVID-19 in Africa. It killed 386,000 Africans in 2019, according to a WHO estimate, compared with 212,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in the past 18 months.
The WHO says 94 percent of malaria cases and deaths occur in Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people.
The preventable disease is caused by parasites transmitted to people by the bites of infected mosquitoes; symptoms include fever, vomiting and fatigue.
The vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing severe cases of malaria in children is only about 30 percent, but it is the only approved vaccine.
The European Union’s drugs regulator approved it in 2015, saying its benefits outweighed the risks.
Another vaccine against malaria, developed by scientists at the UK’s University of Oxford and called R21/Matrix-M, showed up to 77 percent efficacy in a year-long study involving 450 children in Burkina Faso, researchers said in April, but it is still in the trial stages.
GSK also welcomed the WHO recommendation.