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New malaria vaccine shows 77% efficacy in trial, becoming first to surpass WHO target

The results of second-phase trials of the vaccine, known as R21 / Matrix-M and developed by the University of Oxford in cooperation with pharmaceutical giant Novax, were published in Preprints with The Lancet earlier this week.

The researchers claim that the immunization has proven effective in a trial that involved 450 children aged between five and 17 months from Burkina Faso. The subjects were divided into three groups: the first one received the vaccine with a high-dose adjuvant, which is a substance used to improve a vaccine’s effectiveness; the second got the same vaccine with a low-dose adjuvant, and the control group received a rabies shot.

Among those inoculated with the low-dose option, some 29% developed malaria, while some 26% who received a high-dose jab subsequently became infected, meaning the vaccine has shown effectiveness of 71% and 74% respectively in preventing the highly contagious disease.

Having completed the second stage of the trial, the researchers look forward to testing the vaccine on a larger group of 4,500 children, ranging from five months to three years and hailing from Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania.

While the vaccine still has a long way to go before it can be used on the general population, it has become the first on record to hit the efficacy goal set by the World Health Organization (WHO) at 75%.

If greenlighted for a rollout in the future, the vaccine will represent a huge improvement on other vaccine candidates, the most successful of which boasted about 56% effectiveness in trials.

The world’s pharmaceutical giants have been under constant pressure to develop a “bulletproof” Covid-19 vaccine since the beginning of the pandemic, with some 200 vaccine candidates being developed as of December last year. Scores of jabs have received emergency approval, with rollouts already in full swing in countries hardest-hit by the pandemic. The quest for an effective Malaria vaccine is, meanwhile, still ongoing. The only approved anti-malaria immunization, known by the brand name Mosquirix, was introduced in 2019, after some 30 years of development. It showed an effectiveness rate of 56% in children aged between five and 17 months.

Adrian Hill, who leads research into the malaria jab and was also behind the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, told Voice of America on Friday that he would like to see the fight against malaria being given the same importance as the battle against coronavirus.

“We’re making the point that more people died of malaria in Africa last year by a factor of maybe four than died of Covid. So why isn’t malaria a priority?” Hill asked.

Some 409 000 people died of malaria in 2019 alone, while some 119,289 Africans died as a result of having contracted Covid-19, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

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