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Fight against Malaria progresses as World Immunization Week marked

April 28, 2021

As we mark World Immunization Week and reflect on the hundreds of millions of lives saved due to vaccination programs, it is hugely encouraging to see the overwhelmingly positive impact these medicines continue to have globally.

This year tens of millions will experience this first-hand through the administration and uptake of ground-breaking vaccines specially designed in record-time to combat the devastating effects of COVID-19.

Pandemic aside, vaccine research and development remain vitally important in ongoing efforts to contain ‘legacy’ diseases like malaria, which continues to be responsible for the deaths of almost half a million people annually, with most victims being children in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, in recent days, a step forward has been taken in the fight against malaria with the announcement by the vaccinology team at the University of Oxford that their latest vaccine trial was the first to reach the World Health Organization’s (WHO) goal of at least 75 per cent efficacy.

In fact, with a reported 77 per cent rate of effectiveness, the Oxford vaccine is a major breakthrough as the most effective malaria vaccine to date has only produced 55 per cent efficacy in trials on African children.

Despite being a life-threatening disease transferred with relative ease through mosquito bites, malaria is preventable and curable. However, in 2020 the WHO urged world leaders to ensure vital funding and research into the disease continued and was not detrimentally impacted by efforts to curb coronavirus.

The organization highlighted the findings of their World Malaria Report which revealed that although the number of cases of malaria had remained static in the last four years, the fatality rate had only fallen by 2,000 people and the target efficacy rate of available vaccines was still far below their desired rate of 75 per cent.

Things have now taken a much more positive turn, and there is real hope that the Oxford vaccine could help turn the tide of malaria in Africa and around the world.

Starting in 2019, the Oxford team trialed 450 children in Burkina Faso, where the vaccine was declared safe and showed high-level efficacy over 12 months of follow-up work. The same research also proved to have another use as the team developed its COVID vaccine using data from the malaria studies.

As part of the trial, an adjuvant for the vaccine was provided by Novavax to create a stronger immune response.

Although the malaria vaccine has taken longer to develop as the disease is complex with thousands of genes compared to around a dozen found in coronavirus.

Trials involving around 5,000 children will now take place, and the Serum Institute of India is prepared to produce over 200 million doses of the vaccine once approved by the regulators.

Anticipation is high in scientific circles as a decisive blow in the fight against malaria could now be struck once and for all.

For further information contact:

Jonathan Walmsley
T: 0203 143 2195

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