First malaria vaccine approved: how the vaccine works

A milestone in the fight against malaria: The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends vaccination against the dangerous tropical disease for the first time – the vaccine is to be vaccinated in children in African countries south of the Sahara and in other malaria regions.

The WHO recommendation is based on pilot tests in which around 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have already received the vaccine. The WHO emphasized that fatal illnesses among those vaccinated decreased by up to 30 percent. The vaccine Mosquirix (RTS,S) was developed and produced by the British pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline.

Malaria – the disease briefly explained

Malaria  is usually caused by parasites (Plasmodium), which are transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. In Germany, malaria can be transmitted to the unborn child through Plasmodium in blood transfusions, insufficiently sterile syringes or, if the mother is infected. However, this is a rare mode of transmission. Common malaria symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • muscle and joint pain
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • cramps
  • bleeding

Without medical treatment, malaria can be fatal, especially if the symptoms are severe.

RTS,S – this is how the malaria vaccine Mosquirix works

The malaria vaccine can be given to children between the ages of six weeks and 17 months and is intended to protect against malaria. The vaccine is applied and used particularly in malaria regions. The vaccinates receive a total of three doses one month apart. A fourth injection is recommended 18 months after the third.

Mosquirix consists of proteins (proteins) found on the surface of the parasites Plasmodium falciparum and the  hepatitis B virus  .

If a child is vaccinated with the protein mix, the immune system recognizes the proteins of the viruses and parasites as foreign and forms antibodies. The immune system reacts faster and more specifically when it comes into contact with the pathogens again.

The Mosquirix vaccine itself cannot prevent infection. However, the antibodies stop the growth of the parasites in the liver and thus prevent a clinical disease.

As with other vaccinations, side effects can also occur with the malaria vaccination. These include, for example:

  • Fever
  • pain at the injection site
  • swelling

Even if the vaccination has so far had a comparatively low effectiveness and measures to  protect against mosquitoes , such as mosquito nets, remain important, according to the WHO they prevent malaria in about four out of ten cases and a serious illness in three out of ten cases within four years. The vaccine thus represents a decisive breakthrough in the fight against the tropical disease.


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