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Malaria vaccine developed at Oxford approved by WHO

A malaria vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Oxford has been approved for use by the World Health Organisation and is expected to save millions of lives around the world. 

The disease, which is responsible for an estimated 627,000 deaths in 2020, remains one of the leading causes of death in children in sub-Saharan Africa. This is in spite of the annual global death toll almost halving since 2000. 

The Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford collaborated with the Serum Institute of India to develop this vaccine, which has been recommended for use by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG), both of which are components of the WHO.

This approval is a key step in administering the vaccine to children in populations most at risk of malaria, alongside it being a more affordable and easily deployable option.

This makes the vaccine the second-ever approved by the WHO for use in preventing malaria in children. To date, the vaccine has been licensed for use in Ghana, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, with Mali and Tanzania participating in Phase III in clinical trials. 

The vaccine was approved after rigorous testing involving pre-clinical and clinical trials in 4 countries, where it was proven to be both safe and effective in protecting against the disease.

It was found that over 12 months, the vaccine had 75% efficacy in places with high seasonal malaria transmission and 68% efficacy in areas with more perennial transmission. A booster dose was found to be required to maintain efficacy going beyond 12 months, achieving 74% efficacy 18 months after administering the vaccine.

The vaccine is particularly effective among young children, who are intended to be its primary recipients. 

Alongside prevention measures such as bed nets, the vaccine has the potential to transform millions of lives. Professor Sir Adrian Hill, who leads the Jenner Institute, lauded how “the vaccine is easily deployable, cost effective and affordable, [and] ready for distribution in areas where it is needed most”.

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, said “the WHO recommendation and approval…marks a huge milestone on our journey to combat this disease.” It is expected that further licences will follow this landmark approval by the WHO and pave the way for a “healthier, more equitable world for everyone”.

Image Credit: Focal Foto via flickr