A potentially game-changing malaria vaccine has been approved by health authorities in Ghana following a successful trial in Burkina Faso.
The R21 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford proved 80 per cent effective when administered in three doses to 409 children aged between five months and 17 months, followed by a booster.
Although results from a larger trial of 4,800 children showed similar success, complete data sets have only been shared with select African governments, including Ghana.
Results from the wider study, which is not yet public, prompted officials at Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority to push ahead with vaccine approvals for children aged between five months and three years.
Other African nations and the World Health Organisation are also considering the vaccine for approval.
Speaking in September, Malaria Consortium technical director Dr James Tibenderana, said he hoped the encouraging results from the Burkino Faso study would lead to further research.
“I hope these results motivate increased and sustained investments in research and development for malaria vaccines, and their equitable access because they prevent malaria infections and save lives,” he said.
The malaria parasite, delivered by a bite from a female Anopheles mosquito, kills around 620,000 people a year, with young children under five most vulnerable.
Cases of malaria have been steadily declining in Ghana, down from 13.4 million in 2017 to 5.8 million in 2021.
According to the WHO, there were an estimated 12,500 deaths from malaria in 2021.
Batches of the R21 vaccine will be produced at the Serum Institute of India, where there is capacity to manufacture up to 200 million doses a year.
In 2021, the WHO made a landmark decision to recommend the first malaria vaccine in children across sub-Saharan Africa.
It followed a large, WHO-backed pilot project where more than 800,000 children received at least one dose of the RTS, S/AS01 malaria vaccine, called Mosquirix, developed by British company GSK.
In total, 2.3 million doses of Mosquirix were administered to children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.
GSK has committed to producing 15 million doses of Mosquirix a year until 2028.