In July, Kenya will become the third country to join a groundbreaking pilot program to vaccinate the population against malaria, after Malawi and Ghana started immunizing children under 2 earlier this summer.
The mosquito-borne disease kills almost half a million people every year, mostly in African countries, and researchers have been trying to develop an effective vaccine for more than 60 years. But this is the first time one has been approved for use.
Malaria specialists are calling it “momentous.”
The search for a vaccine has been complicated by the fact that malaria is caused by a parasite rather than a virus or bacteria. Parasites change shape throughout their lives and take on different forms in different parts of the host’s body. This makes it extremely difficult to target, and Glaxo-Smith-Klein’s RTS,S malaria shot is also the first parasitic vaccine on the market.
Dr. Ashley Birkett, director of the nonprofit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative that supported the development of RTS,S, said the pilot program is “momentous, not only in the case of malaria but also in the potential to fight parasitic diseases.”
But there are also a few caveats.
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