Battling killer disease
Vaccination and immunisation must not fall victim to “fake news” phenomenon
The introduction by the World Health Organisation of the world’s first malaria vaccine is a significant milestone for global health. Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will begin a pilot immunisation programme next year for a disease whose current primary modes of prevention are bed netting and insecticides. Malaria remains one of the world’s most stubborn health challenges, infecting more than 200 million people every year and killing about half a million. Malaria spreads when a mosquito bites an infected person, ingests blood and the parasites, and then bites another person. The WHO says it wants to reduce malaria mortality rates by at least 90 per cent by 2030.
It has taken decades of research to produce a viable vaccine
The vaccine will be tested on some 750,000 children aged five to 17 months old to see whether protective effects shown in clinical trials can be maintained under real-life conditions. It has taken decades of research to produce a viable vaccine. Even now the vaccine doesn’t provide perfect protection: in a recent trial, it only stopped about 30 per cent of malaria cases in infants, and 40 per cent in toddlers. But that represents a significant success, given the challenges of fighting the bugs that cause malaria; the parasites change their shape at every step of the infectious process, making it difficult to find a universal vaccine.
The crucial importance of vaccination for immunisation and disease prevention in the EU and the wider WHO European Region was emphasised last week by the European Commission and the WHO. In a joint statement they noted that in the last 60 years, immunisation has saved more children’s lives than any other medical intervention. For example measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year, before widespread vaccination was put in place in 1980. The highly contagious disease is now preventable.
Invariably ranked as one of modern medicines greatest achievements, it is unfortunate that immunisation has become a victim of the “fake news” phenomenon. Vaccination is a safe and scientifically proven preventive health intervention; we must not let it fall victim to a devaluation of expertise and a prevalent anti-science zeitgeist.