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WHO recommends Oxford malaria vaccine for children

2 October 2023

Malaria kills over 600,000 people every year. 96% of all deaths are reported in Africa and 80% of those fatalities are in children under the age of five. Children are most vulnerable to malaria because their bodies have not yet developed the immunity to fight the parasite which destroys red blood cells. In severe cases, a malaria infection can cause anaemia, mental confusion, shortness of breath, organ failure (especially kidneys), and death. Today’s announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) will bring hope to Africans that this deadly disease can finally be contained.

WHO has formally recommended a new malaria vaccine called R21/Matrix-M™, which was developed by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and the Serum Institute of India. Serum Institute of India will initially produce up to 100m doses per year and expects to double capacity over the next two years. The vaccine is the result of 30 years of research by the Jenner Institute, which is an incredibly long time considering it took less than a year to develop COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine development takes on average 10-15 years.

Malaria kills more than half a million children every year. The malaria vaccine will stop robbing them of a future. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Riccardo Mayer
Malaria kills more than half a million children every year. The malaria vaccine will stop robbing them of a future. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Riccardo Mayer

The R21/Matrix-M™ has already been approved for use in Ghana, Nigeria and more recently, Burkina Faso. The WHO recommendation comes after the successful completion of a one-year clinical trial involving 4,800 children in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania. The efficacy of the vaccine ranges from 68-75% with three doses and a fourth dose a year later is required to maintain efficacy. This will be Africa’s equivalent of the annual flu shot. More importantly, the R21/Matrix-M™ is affordably priced at $2-4 per dose. The R21/Matrix-M™ will be available across Africa by mid-2024.

This is the second vaccine that WHO has recommended. It approved the use of the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine in 2021 following successful clinical trials in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. Africa will receive 18 million doses of RTS,S/AS01  between 2023-25 and allocations were made for the following countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

WHO reported that at least 28 African countries would include the malaria vaccine in the national immunization programmes, which will protect vulnerable children and save lives.

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