Ghana has become the first country to grant approval for a new malaria vaccine, hailed by its developers as a “world-changer.”
This vaccine, known as R21, has demonstrated significant effectiveness, which sets it apart from previous efforts in the same field.
Ghana’s drug regulators have reviewed the vaccine’s final trial data, which is not yet public, and have deemed it safe and effective enough for use.
The World Health Organization is also considering granting approval for the vaccine. Malaria is responsible for the deaths of approximately 620,000 individuals annually, most of whom are children.
Developing a vaccine that can protect the body against the malaria parasite has been a significant scientific undertaking spanning over a century.
Early trial data from Burkina Faso has shown that the R21 vaccine can be up to 80% effective when administered as three initial doses, followed by a booster a year later.
The wider utilization of the vaccine is contingent on the outcome of a larger trial that involved almost 5,000 children. Although the trial was expected to conclude at the end of the previous year, its results are yet to be formally released.
Nevertheless, some African government agencies and scientists have had access to the data.
Although I haven’t examined the final data, I have been informed that it depicts a similar scenario to the previous studies. Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority, which has reviewed the data, has authorized the vaccine’s usage in children aged between five months to three years old.
Other African countries are also scrutinizing the data, as is the World Health Organization.
Prof Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, where the vaccine was invented, says African countries are declaring: “we’ll decide”, after being left behind in the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines during the pandemic.
He told me: “We expect R21 to make a major impact on malaria mortality in children in the coming years, and in the longer term [it] will contribute to overall final goal of malaria eradication and elimination.”
A vaccine factory is being constructed in Accra, Ghana by the Serum Institute of India, with the capacity to manufacture 100-200 million doses of the vaccine annually. The cost of each R21 dose is projected to be a few dollars.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute, said: “Developing a vaccine to greatly impact this huge disease burden has been extraordinarily difficult.”
He added that Ghana, as the first country to approve the vaccine, represents a “significant milestone in our efforts to combat malaria around the world”.