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Malaria Vaccine

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This is an enormous advance in the history of public health.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday endorsed the first ever vaccine to prevent malaria, debuting a tool that could save the lives of tens of thousands of children in Africa each year.

Malaria is among the oldest known and deadliest of infectious diseases. It kills about half a million people each year, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa — among them 260,000 children under age 5.

The new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, rouses a child’s immune system to thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa. The vaccine is not just a first for malaria — it is the first developed for any parasitic disease.

In clinical trials, the vaccine had an efficacy of about 50 percent against severe malaria in the first year, but dropped close to zero by the fourth year. And the trials did not measure the vaccine’s impact on preventing deaths, which has led some experts to question whether it is a worthwhile investment in countries with countless other intractable problems.

But severe malaria accounts for up to half of malaria deaths and is considered “a reliable proximal indicator of mortality,” said Dr. Mary Hamel, who leads the W.H.O.’s malaria vaccine implementation program. “I do expect we will see that impact.”

A modeling study last year estimated that if the vaccine were rolled out to countries with the highest incidence of malaria, it could prevent 5.4 million cases and 23,000 deaths in children younger than age 5 each year.

Obviously, we need work to make this more effective but it’s still a gigantic step.

I couldn’t help but think about how conservatives who have dishonestly claimed that Rachel Carson is responsible for millions of deaths because of her anti-DDT stance (she never said it should be banned completely among other things about this ridiculous claim) are now going to be anti-vax on this like everything else.

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