The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has said the country is not implementing a malaria vaccine trial as is being speculated by anti-vaccine campaigners.
According to the service, Ghana was rather undertaking a three-year malaria vaccine implementation pilot, together with Malawi and Kenya.
Dubbed the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP), what is currently being done is the delivery of Mosquirix or RTS,S, which is the newly licensed malaria vaccine, into the routine immunisation programmes of the various countries, to further assess its compatability with other immunisation programmes.
Data and information derived from the MVIP will inform a World Health Organisation (WHO) policy recommendation on the broader use of the vaccine.
The Director-General (DG) of the GHS, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, who made this known in a telephone interview with the Daily Graphic yesterday, refuted the allegations made by some social media anti-vaccine campaigners, especially from the United States of America (USA) and Europe, that the country was undertaking a clinical trial of a new malaria vaccine.
He said a vaccine trial was a clinical trial that aimed at establishing the safety and efficacy of a vaccine prior to it being licensed.
However, he said, the RTS,S vaccine being used in the country had already undergone Phases I, II and III clinical trials and had been licensed by the WHO and approved by Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) for use in Ghana.
He said the Phase I trial was done 20 years ago among some United States Army volunteers to establish the safety of the vaccine, saying currently, the volunteers were still in healthy conditions.
The Phases II and III clinical trials, he said, were also done in 11 research sites in seven African countries, including Ghana at the Kintampo and Agogo research centres, with the phase III ending in 2014 after which the vaccine had since been licensed.
Introduction of vaccine
The DG of the GHS said currently, what was being done was the introduction of the vaccine in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya in phases.
In Ghana, the vaccine, which was introduced on May 1, 2019, was being implemented in the Bono, Ahafo, Bono East, Volta, Oti and Central regions, where, according to Dr Nsiah-Asare, malaria was endemic.
The first batch of the vaccines, constituting 400,000 doses, had been delivered to Ghana by the WHO for the start of the three-year pilot.
The vaccine acts against plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly malaria parasite in the world and the most prevalent in Africa.
Dr Nsiah-Asare said after the piloting of the vaccine over a period of time, it would be evaluated for use as a complementary malaria control tool that could be added to, but would not replace the core package of WHO-recommended preventive, diagnostic and treatment measures such as the use of bed-nets and insecticides.
He said due to the negative work of the social media anti-vaccine campaigners, the USA, particularly Brooklyn, was battling with the outbreak of measles as some parents were deceived into not vaccinating their children.
Ghana, he said, eradicated measles because of vaccines, as scores of children died needlessly at major hospitals in the 1970’s and 1980’s because of measles “but no death has been recorded in Ghana in the last 15 years all thanks to vaccines”.
He said in Ghana today, children were protected against over 13 deadly childhood diseases, including dipyheria, measles, poliomyelitis and diarrhoea, all because of vaccines.
He advised that immunisation was the best solution to childhood survival against killer diseases such as malaria, measles and polio, adding that no parent should deny their child the right to live by listening to these anti-vaccine campaigners.
Dr Nsiah-Asare said children under five, who had low immune systems, would die needlessly if nothing was done through immunisation to save their lives.
Results of the phase III RTS,S trial
The Phase III trial, conducted from 2009 to 2014, enrolled approximately 15,000 young children and infants in seven sub-Saharan African countries, including Ghana.
The results were that among children aged five to 17 months who received four doses of RTS,S, approximately four in 10, that is 39 per cent of cases of malaria, were prevented and about three in 10, that is 29 per cent cases of severe malaria, were also reduced.
There was also a 37.2 per cent reduction in overall malaria-related hospital admissions due to malaria or severe anaemia.
The vaccine also reduced the need for blood transfusions, which were required to treat life-threatening malaria anaemia by 29 per cent.