Malaria Vaccine Being Rolled Out in Africa

Health workers from Malawi started rolling out the first proven vaccine against malaria. This was a moment US$700 million and 32 years in the making.

Case study

Malaria Mosquito

Malaria Mosquito

The name of the vaccine is RTS,S. Malawi started giving the vaccine to children 2 years and below on 23rd April. Kenya and Ghana will soon join in. This is as part of the large scale program that is backed by the World Health organization (WHO). This effort could immunize up to more than 1 million children by 2023. This is a great boost in the fight against malaria. Malaria kills around 1,200 people worldwide daily. Most of them are children from Africa.

The plan is however, controversial. The vaccine only prevents 4 in 10 malaria cases with a dose of four injections over a period of eighteen months. Some researchers question spending time and money on this program. This is because there are a handful more effective trial vaccines in clinical trials. These vaccines could be available by the time RTS,S is ready for use regularly. They say that there is need for a more effective way forward.

James Tibenderana said that there was a need to rethink the whole process. He said that we cannot expect pharmaceuticals to spend 30 more years making another vaccine. That vaccine would probably take 3-4 years before people decide to accept it.

The vaccine is a product of Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) a pharmaceutical firm based in London. They said they were extremely proud to see the vaccine rolled out. They acknowledged that that kind of endeavor could not be repeated and they need to find other ways.

How it started

Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring began testing the RTS,S vaccine in 1987.  They came to a realization that it would be hard to target the malaria parasite. Plasmodium falciparum changes shape when in the human body. This makes it difficult for the attacking proteins triggered by the vaccine to recognize the parasite.

In the next thirty years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GSK supported production of the vaccine. It cost $700 million. A clinical trial involving 15,000 people found that administering 4 doses of RTS,S for 18 months reduced malaria episodes by 36%.

Data from an earlier trial suggested that the partial protection would fade over time. In 2015, the World Health Organization recommended that the vaccine should be rolled out in phases. This was to identify safety issues and determine feasibility of wider distribution.

Mary Hamel who is a medical epidemiologist at the WHO said that researchers would compare the health of the vaccinated kids with that of unvaccinated children. She said they would look out for imbalances in deaths, meningitis and severe malaria.


Researchers like Adrian Hill argued that the money for the pilot program could be spent better on supporting development of better vaccines. Some scientist intend to re-engineer RTS,S to fight the most common strains of malaria in Africa.

We would appreciate it if you shared your thoughts on the discussion in the comment section below.





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