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Promising new malaria vaccine for children approved in Ghana

A health official prepares a vaccine.
Ghana is the first country to approve the malaria vaccine for children known as R21/Matrix-M.
(Jerome Delay / Associated Press)
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Ghana on Thursday became the first country to approve a new malaria vaccine for young children, one that officials hope will offer better protection against the disease that kills hundreds of thousands every year.

Final results from late-stage trials have not yet been published, and the vaccine is under review at the World Health Organization. Preliminary results from early testing of the new vaccine, developed at the University of Oxford, have suggested the vaccine is far more effective than the only malaria vaccine now authorized for use by the WHO.

Late-stage testing of the vaccine still is underway in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania, with results expected later this year.

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Results from an earlier trial released last year showed that in children vaccinated in Burkina Faso, the vaccine was up to 80% effective depending on how much of an immune-boosting ingredient was included in the shots.

The WHO has already rolled out a pilot program of the world’s first authorized malaria vaccine, piloted in three African countries, including Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. But that vaccine, sold by GlaxoSmithKline as Mosquirix, is about 30% effective.

That vaccine “is saving lives” in the three pilot countries and has been delivered to over 1.4 million kids, according to Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman.

Research in Africa has found that a one-time dose of an experimental drug protected adults against malaria for at least six months.

Oct. 31, 2022

Jasarevic said its advisory panel on malaria vaccines is reviewing available information on the new vaccine but is waiting for more data about its safety and efficacy from ongoing trials. “Initial results appear promising,” he wrote in an email.

“We would welcome a second malaria vaccine that is safe and efficacious and approved by WHO to complement the rollout of the first malaria vaccine,” he said.

It’s not clear how soon the new vaccine will be available. Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority approved its use for children ages 5 months to 36 months, the group at highest risk of death from malaria, its developers said in a statement.

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Once the new Oxford vaccine is in use, Ghanaian health officials will weigh the “pros and cons before making a final decision” on which one is more effective, said Kwame Amponsa-Achiano the head of Ghana’s immunization program. Ghana is currently using the WHO-approved vaccine.

The new vaccine can be manufactured at large scale and modest cost, its developers say. The Serum Institute of India says it could produce up to 100 million doses depending on demand, which will in turn depend on approval from the WHO.

Ghana’s decision to approve the vaccine quickly was welcomed by health officials on the continent.

″[The] more we wait, [the] more we’ll have thousands of children dying from malaria,” said Halidou Tinto, a malaria researcher who is leading the vaccine trial in Burkina Faso.

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