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20m Doses of World's First Malaria Vaccine to be Available to Countries by Next Year

Widespread use of the Mosquirix vaccine produced by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline was recommended after the drug was seen to arouse a child's immune system to thwart malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum in clinical trials.

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Twenty million doses of the RTS,S malaria vaccine which was endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) for general use last year will be available to high transmission countries by next year.

Widespread use of the Mosquirix vaccine produced by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline was recommended after the drug was seen to arouse a child's immune system to thwart malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum in clinical trials.  In this study, the vaccine had an efficacy of about 50 per cent against severe malaria in the first year but dropped close to zero by the fourth year. 

The drug was also tried out in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana, where it was incorporated into routine immunization programs, a pilot that experts at WHO based on to recommend its general use. More than two-thirds of children in the three countries who were not sleeping under bed nets were found to be benefitting from the RTS, S vaccine. 

They also saw a 30 per cent reduction in malaria when the vaccine was introduced in areas where insecticide-treated nets are widely used and there is good access to diagnosis and treatment in the study. 

While the vaccine should have been available to many countries by now, Dr Jimmy Opigo who heads the Malaria Control Programme in the Ministry of Health says its production was affected by the urgent need for the COVID-19 vaccines which has for the past year been the target by both donors and vaccine manufacturers. 

However, as plans to dispatch the vaccine are drawn, Dr Opigo says that the most Uganda can get of that first batch is about a million doses.  Currently, he says his division is in the planning phase where they are in discussions regarding which areas will benefit first or what exactly the target age groups of children will be since the plan is to integrate the vaccine into the routine immunization schedule as it becomes available.

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According to research, all previous malaria vaccine candidates never made it past clinical trials, while Bed nets, the most widespread preventive measure, cut malaria deaths in children under age 5 by only about 20 per cent. This implies that the new vaccine, even with modest efficacy, is the best new development so far in the fight against the disease in decades.

The new vaccine is given in three doses between ages 5 and 17 months, and a fourth dose roughly 18 months later.

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