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.

"Malaria spreads when a mosquito bites an infected person, ingests blood and the parasites, and then bites another person."

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.

A doctor holding a test positive test for Malaria at the Magburaka PHC Primary Health Clinic in Sierra Leone. Researchers at University College Cork have developed a new microneedle immunisation technology which could prove hugely significant in the fight against malaria. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.
"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." File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.