Africa: New malaria vaccine will prevent many deaths, but does not mean the end of malaria
By Ahmad Hadizat Omayoza, Mamos Nigeria
A new vaccine against malaria, which kills 600,000 people each year, mostly children, will be injected into the arms of infants in the 18 countries with the highest malaria mortality rates. This is great news. But the irresistible enthusiasm the announcement generated says more than just the brilliance of the scientific invention, it also says a lot about the dire state of malaria control.
Because this vaccine is an imperfect vaccine that at best protects 75% of those who receive it. This is the highest value in clinical research. Considering the reality of village life in poor parts of Africa, less than half of villages may be safe. Starting vaccination programs in the 18 countries currently receiving funding remains critical to averting many deaths. But malaria doesn’t end there. There’s nothing nearby.
The R21/Matrix M vaccine, which is being tested and manufactured by the University of Oxford and the Serum Institute of India, is the second to be brought to market. The first was RTS,S (trade name Mosquirix) manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. Developed in 1987, it was tested and piloted in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi in 2019.
There is little difference in the results of two vaccines developed and produced in very similar ways. We are not looking at breakthrough mRNA vaccines using brand new technology like those used in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines. However, there are groups working on early development of certain vaccine studies.
The big difference is the price and benefits. Only 18 million doses of RTS,S are available. The Serum Institute has produced 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine and has pledged to double that number next year. The price is also much lower, similar to other pediatric vaccines commonly used in Africa.
That’s really good news. Vaccines cannot be used to save lives if you cannot afford or do not have access to them. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, was insightful.
After WHO announced its approval, she said: “This second vaccine has real potential to bridge the huge gap between demand and supply.” Malaria is a disease that families in endemic areas fear. They want a vaccine. They have seen too many children get sick and die. Gavi, the vaccination alliance, will now increase funding to distribute vaccines as widely as possible. That’s how it should be.
Mothers take their children to a malaria vaccination program in western Kenya. In western Kenya, 4,444 mothers are taking their children to participate in the malaria vaccination program.
But this is not her one-time vaccine. There are 4 shots. Vaccines are also most effective in young babies, so the first three shots are given at monthly intervals starting at 5 months of age, followed by a booster shot at 2 years of age; does not coincide with the routine immunization schedule.
Families may need to go to the clinic, leave the field, or work hard at home with other children. Even in prosperity.