WHO officials are warning governments to move fast to contain outbreaks.
A potential new malaria vaccine has proved highly effective in a trial in babies in Africa, pointing to it one day possibly helping reduce the death toll from the mosquito-borne disease that kills up to half a million young children a year.
The candidate vaccine, developed by scientists at Britain’s University of Oxford and called R21/Matrix-M, showed up to 77 percent efficacy in the year-long trial of 450 children in Burkina Faso, researchers leading the trial said in a statement.
The scientists, led by Adrian Hill, director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and also one of the lead researchers behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, said they now plan to conduct final stage trials in some 4,800 children aged between five months and three years in four African countries.
“It is more effective than anything that has been reported on before. The World Health Organization wanted a 75 percent effective vaccine. This is the first time anyone has gone above that level. Really importantly, it can be manufactured at a large scale. So far, the vaccine looks safe,” Hill told Al Jazeera.
Hill said the vaccine can be kept refrigerated and does not require freezing, making it easier to distribute to remote areas.
Scientists around the world have been working for decades to develop a vaccine to prevent malaria – a complex infection caused by a parasite carried in the saliva of mosquitoes.
Malaria infects millions of people every year and kills more than 400,000 – most of them babies and young children in the poorest parts of Africa.
The world’s first and only licensed malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline over many years of clinical trials across several African countries, but is only partially effective at around 30 percent.
In the R21/Matrix-M trial in Burkina Faso, the 450 young children were divided into three groups.
Two groups got three doses of the experimental vaccine along with either a low or a high dose of an adjuvant – an ingredient designed to super-charge the body’s response to a vaccine – while the third group was given a control vaccine.
Results, which researchers said would soon be published in The Lancet medical journal, showed efficacy of 77 percent in the high-dose adjuvant group and 74 percent among those who got the vaccine with a low dose of adjuvant.