WHO to market first malaria vaccine in Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the next step in its commercialization of the world’s first approved malaria vaccine. The release is expected to take place in three African countries: Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.

But the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a supporter of the vaccine, raised concerns.

The WHO said last fall that the vaccine was a “historic” development in efforts to fight malaria. But the Gates Foundation said The Associated Press this week that he will no longer support the vaccine financially.

Some scientists warn that the move could put millions of African children at risk. It could also weaken future efforts to address difficult public health issues.

The vaccine is called Mosquirix and is sold by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). It is about 30% effective and requires four doses.

The malaria vaccine has “a much lower rate efficiency than we would like,” said Philip Welkhoff. He is the director of malaria programs for the Gates Foundation. The foundation is ending its support after spending more than $200 million and working more than 20 years to get the vaccine. Welkhoff also said the vaccine was too expensive and difficult to provide.

Welkhoff said the foundation’s money would be better spent on other malaria vaccines and treatments. Some of the resources that could have been used to provide the vaccine to countries have been redirected to the purchase of new mosquito nets.

Alister Craig works at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. “It’s not the best vaccine in the world, but there are ways to use it that could have a big impact impact,” he said.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has undermined efforts to stop malaria. Malaria killed more than 620,000 people in 2020 and caused 241 million cases, mostly among children under five in Africa, Craig said.

“There could be another approved vaccine in about five years, but that’s a lot of lives lost if we wait until then,” Craig said.

Another vaccine is currently being developed by the University of Oxford. BioNTech, creator of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, also plans to use the messenger RNA technology it used for the coronavirus for a malaria vaccine. But this project has only just begun.

Health officials prepare to administer a vaccine in the village of Tomali in Malawi with the world's first malaria vaccine under a pilot program in Tomali, December 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, Queue)

Health officials prepare to administer a vaccine in the village of Tomali in Malawi with the world’s first malaria vaccine under a pilot program in Tomali, December 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, Queue)

Another big problem is production. GSK said it could only produce about 15 million injections per year until 2028. The WHO estimates that to protect the 25 million children born in Africa each year, at least 100 million doses per year may be required.

“All the money in the world” would not solve short-term vaccine supply problems, Welkhoff said. He noted that the Gates Foundation continues to support the Gavi vaccine alliance. Gavi said it was spending nearly $156 million to make the vaccine available in the three African countries.

The vaccine, even with its problems, is still highly sought after in Malawi.

Nolia Zidana said she hoped to get her two young sons vaccinated after watching malaria sicken them on several occasions – and survive it herself.

“Growing up with my parents and siblings, we were sick with malaria all the time,” she said.

Dr. Michael Kayange works in the Malawi Ministry of Health. He urged everyone in the country to take all possible measures to stop malaria. Vaccination itself is unable to stop the disease and people should take many steps, he said.

“Even sleeping under a mosquito net, you have played your part in reducing the burden of malaria in the country,” he said.

I am Dan Novak.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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words in this story

efficiency — nm the power to produce a desired result or effect

impact -not. a noticeable result or effect

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