Malaria kills about 500,000 people each year, about half of them children in Africa. The new vaccine isn’t perfect, but it will help turn the tide, experts said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved the first ever vaccine for malaria, a vector-borne disease, which kills a child every two minutes across the globe. Children under five years of age are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria.

This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus on Wednesday. “Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

In a statement, the global health body said it endorsed the widespread administration of the vaccine after examining results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019.

The vaccine, called Mosquirix, is not just a first for malaria — it is the first developed for any parasitic disease. Parasites are much more complex than viruses or bacteria, and the quest for a malaria vaccine has been underway for a hundred years.

“It’s a huge jump from the science perspective to have a first-generation vaccine against a human parasite,” Dr. Alonso said.

Today, WHO recommends RTS,S, a groundbreaking malaria vaccine, to reduce child illness & deaths in areas with moderate and high malaria transmission.

On her part, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said the new vaccine offers a glimmer of hope to Africa, which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease.

“For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said Ms Moeti. “We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use.”

Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults,” she added.

Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually.

Pharmaceutical companies that had provided funding for the pilot programme were among three key global health funding bodies including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid.