WHO approves world's first malaria vaccine in 'long-awaited landmark decision'

The World Health Organization threw its support behind the first ever vaccine to prevent malaria, a "historical" decision that "could save the lives of tens of thousands of children in Africa each year," The New York Times reports.

"I longed for the day that we would have an effective vaccine against this ancient and terrible disease," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, per The Wall Street Journal. "Today is that day. An historic day."

Ghebreyesus also noted the vaccine, known as Mosquirix and developed by GlaxoSmithKline, would have to be used alongside other preventative measures like bed nets and pesticides. The WHO's endorsement is a "crucial step" in ramping up investment for greater production and rollout, writes the Journal. The shot will be deployed in sub-Saharan Africa and other at-risk regions.

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"This long-awaited landmark decision can reinvigorate the fight against malaria in the region at a time when progress on malaria control has stalled," said Thomas Breuer, chief global health officer at Glaxo.

The vaccine has a "relatively low efficacy," and requires four doses in young children over approximately 18 months; but still, when combined with preventative drugs during high-transmissions seasons, the "dual approach" proved "much more effective at preventing severe disease ... than either method alone," per the Times and the Journal.

What's more, Dr. Mary Hamel, who heads the WHO's malaria vaccine implementation program, believes distribution will be relatively simple. "We aren't going to have to spend a decade trying to figure out how to get this to children," Hamel said, adding, "The ability to reduce inequities in access to malaria prevention — that's important. It was impressive to see that this could reach children who are currently not being protected."

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