The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday issued approval to the world's first vaccine that can fight malaria, a disease that kills about 500,000 people worldwide each year.
The WHO issued a recommendation that children in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas with high levels of malaria transmission get the new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline.
According to The New York Times, the vaccine fights Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria pathogen and the pathogen most prevalent in Africa.
The vaccine has an efficacy of about 50% against severe cases of malaria in the first year after a patient takes it. However, the Times reports that efficacy against severe disease "drops to close to zero" after four years.
Trials also did not measure the vaccine's impact on preventing deaths, something the Times reports "led some experts to question whether it is a worthwhile investment."
Still, the approval of the vaccine is a momentous moment in medicine. It marks the first time the WHO has approved a vaccine for not just malaria but any parasitic disease.
"The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, said in a statement. "[It] could save tens of thousands of young lives each year."
Malaria is the leading cause of childhood death in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the WHO, more than 260,000 children under the age of 5 die of the disease each year.
"For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering," said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's regional director for Africa. "We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine, and now, for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use. Today's recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease, and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults."