Malaria Vaccine—the First Ever to Immunize against a Parasitic Infection—Gets Green Light from WHO (Q&A w/ Davidson Hamer)

Original article from The Brink

Malaria and infectious disease expert says the vaccine could save countless children’s lives in sub-Saharan Africa—but he still has a few concerns

In a historic move, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday announced their recommendation for widespread use of the first-ever malaria vaccine—green-lighting a vaccine that has the potential to prevent hundreds of millions of cases of malaria and thousands of deaths in children worldwide each year. It’s the first time a vaccine will be rolled out to combat infection caused by a parasite, rather than a virus.

Malaria is a serious mosquito-borne infection, caused by a parasite that passes through mosquito bites into humans, that is found across broad geographic regions of the world, but is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2019, there were 229 million cases of malaria globally and 409,000 deaths, mostly impacting children who live in the sub-Saharan African nations where rates of malaria are especially high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As part of a pilot program, more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline and called Mosquirix, have already been administered to over 800,000 children in three countries—Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana, all of which are places where malaria is rampant. The vaccine is given in three doses to children between 5 and 17 months of age, followed by a fourth dose about 18 months later.

To find out what the Mosquirix vaccine means for global health, The Brink reached out to BU infectious disease expert Davidson Hamer, who has treated patients with malaria and has worked to help improve tropical disease control strategies in countries around the world. He helped run the Boston University Malaria Project (ZAMBUMP) between 2001–2005, which helped strengthen surveillance programs to reduce malaria in Zambia and to establish the most effective treatment and prevention guidelines for the region’s doctors and patients. Hamer has also worked closely with the WHO to research and improve public health guidelines for other serious illnesses around the world. He is a professor of global health and medicine at BU’s School of Public Health and School of Medicine, and a faculty member at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL)