In April 2023 it was reported that Ghana is the first country to approve a new malaria vaccine, described by its developers as a “world-changer”. R21 demonstrated “high efficacy” in September 2022 and more recent data, which is currently unpublished, apparently supported a favourable decision. WHO is considering approval for the vaccine.
Malaria is estimated to kill around 620,000 people every year, with a high mortality rate in young children. The Ministry of Health in Ghana states that malaria kills “one child every 20 seconds”.
“Nearly 500,000 African children under the age of five die from this disease annually.”
The Ministry reports that in 2021 there were 5.7 million confirmed cases of malaria, with 275 deaths.
The vaccine is developed by researchers at the University of Oxford, supported by a deal with the Serum Insitute of India to produce up to 200 million doses each year. The BBC describes the “scientific undertaking” to develop a protective vaccine as “massive”. However, recent data has been shared with “some government bodies in Africa” ahead of formal publication. Thus, Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority has approved the vaccine for use in children between the ages of five months and 3 years.
African countries “decide”
Professor Adrian Hill is director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford. He suggested that after being left behind in the COVID-19 vaccines rollout, African countries are stating “we’ll decide”. He told the BBC that he expects R21 to make a “major impact on malaria mortality in children”.
“In the longer term [it] will contribute to the overall final goal of malaria eradication and elimination.”
A vaccine factory is being constructed in Accra, Ghana, with each dose believed to cost a couple of dollars. CEO of the Serum Insititute, Adar Poonawalla, described the challenge to develop this vaccine as “extraordinarily difficult”. He believes this approval is a “significant milestone” in global efforts.
For more on efforts to tackle malaria and other infectious diseases at the World Vaccine Congress in Barcelona this October, get your tickets here.