Every day we are bombarded with news about COVID-19 vaccines. In Canada, we are fortunate to have an abundant supply to the point where BC has taken the lead on donating some unneeded doses to the international COVAX effort. Lately, much of our COVID-19 vaccine attention has turned towards vaccinating young children. But what if I told you there is another vaccine for kids that is making history? One that will save tens of thousands of children a year, that has already been safely administered to 800,000 children, and that WHO is now recommending for widespread deployment?
Yes, I’m talking about the world’s first safe and effective vaccine for children against malaria – the RTS,S vaccine. You may ask why we should care about malaria amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. For starters, as COVID-19 has shown, diseases are able to spread fast and furious meaning a health threat anywhere is a health threat to people everywhere. And just because COVID-19 exists, that doesn’t mean that malaria has ceased to exist. Rather its burden has gotten worse because of the impact COVID-19 has had on the health care system – straining health workers and clinics and disrupting supply chains used to get malaria tests and treatments to people around the world. So let’s pause a moment to consider the significance of this new historic vaccine.
Malaria has been one of the biggest parasitic diseases faced by humanity for hundreds of years, mostly killing babies and infants. In 2019, more than 260,000 children under the age of five died from malaria. This vaccine has been shown to reduce childhood deaths due to malaria by 40% and hospitalizations by nearly one third, even in areas that already use other mitigation measures such as insecticide-treated nets.
These facts alone are stunning. Not only is this vaccine the first authorized malaria vaccine, it is also the first ever vaccine approved for use against a parasitic disease in humans. Its creation is a breakthrough for science, for child health and for controlling malaria.
I care about protecting my children and your children. It is why Doctors of BC has spoken out strongly in favour of COVID-19 vaccines and their protective measures for our communities and families. I also care about children all around the world, and for them this new malaria vaccine is more than just ‘another’ vaccine. It is a lifeline.
We are right to be concerned for our children’s safety and to want the best for them. In that spirit, I encourage you to take a moment to celebrate an achievement that will make it possible for tens of thousands of children to simply make it past their fifth birthday. That’s vaccine news worth sharing.
- Dr Matthew Chow, President