The World Health Organization on Wednesday endorsed the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine for children, the first against the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 400,000 a year.
“Today, WHO is recommending the broad use of the world’s first malaria vaccine,” the agency’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is the first and, to date, the only vaccine to show that it can significantly reduce malaria, and life-threatening severe malaria, the WHO says. The drug acts against P. falciparum, the most deadly malaria parasite globally — and particularly so in Africa, where clinical trials occurred.
Per the WHO, the vaccine prevented approximately 4 in 10 cases of malaria over a 4-year period. While the clinical trials didn’t measure the vaccine’s impact on deaths, severe malaria is “a reliable proximal indicator of mortality,” Dr. Mary Hamel, who leads the WHO’s malaria vaccine implementation program, told The New York Times.
The vaccine is not just a first for malaria; it’s the first developed for any parasitic disease, the Times reports.
Costa Rica in 2019 registered at least 111 cases of malaria, most commonly in the northern canton of San Carlos. That year, there were an estimated 229 million cases worldwide, according to the WHO.
Malaria killed an estimated 409,000 people in 2019, per WHO figures. The vast majority (94%) of cases and deaths were in Africa, and children under 5 years are the most vulnerable.
Costa Rica is among more than two-dozen countries hoping to eradicate malaria by 2025. It’s not yet clear whether the vaccine would be deployed in Costa Rica, which already has relatively few cases and deaths.
“The entire health sector nationwide is working to ensure detection, diagnosis, treatment, research and quality response to eliminate the parasite from any reservoir of malaria in the country, while strengthening the epidemiological surveillance system to ensure that cases are detected promptly to perform integrated vector management and reduce the risk of reintroduction in vulnerable areas,” Alejandra Acuña, Deputy Minister of Health, said in 2019.