NEW CASTLE, Delaware — The University of Oxford has developed a vaccine for malaria that has an up to 80% effective rate. It has joined hands with the Serum Institute of India to manufacture the vaccine and Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority recently approved it for use. Children between 5 months to 3 years old who have the highest risk rates of catching malaria will receive the vaccine scientifically known as R-21 or Matrix. In 2021, Outbreak News stated that “malaria kills one child every 30 seconds, which approximates about 3,000 children every day worldwide.” The website further states that “nearly 500,000 African children under the age of five die from this disease annually.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Malaria is an acute febrile illness that Plasmodium parasites cause and it spreads to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.” It is a life-threatening disease that shares some of the same symptoms as the flu. After the mosquito bite, 10-15 days later the symptoms can include fever, headache and chills. If left untreated the disease can cause multiple organ failures in adults and critical anemia or respiratory diseases in children.
Malaria is an endemic disease in Ghana and the severity of risk amongst children varies by seasonal region. Back in 2021, Ghana recorded over 5 million cases of malaria with over 200 deaths. Children under the age of 5 years old make up over 1.6 million of those cases and 125 of the deaths.
Pregnant Women and Children
Ghana has struggled with reducing the mortality rates in the country. According to UNICEF, there are 44 deaths per 1,000 births for children under 5.
Over the years, Ghana has been combating malaria for pregnant women and children under 5 years old. One of the many efforts to continue to combat malaria in Ghana is the use of the Insecticide-treated net (ITN). According to Oxford Academic, “When properly used, ITNs can reduce malaria transmission by at least 60%”.
Pregnant women are at risk just as much as children for malaria. Over 120 million expectant mothers could be exposed to malaria. It poses a threat to their fetuses which can lead to a child having anemia, stillbirths, underweight babies and fetus or maternal death.
Many have claimed that the University of Oxford’s R-21 vaccine is “world-changing.” “The R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine is a low-dose vaccine that can be manufactured at mass scale and modest cost, enabling as many as hundreds of millions of doses to be supplied to African countries which are suffering a significant malaria burden”, says the University of Oxford.
The R-21 vaccine has shown its highest rate of efficacy when children receive a booster shot after one year of following a three-dose regime. The high success rate of R-21 has exceeded the World Health Organization’s target of a 75% effective rate.
WHO recommended the RTS-S vaccine for malaria in 2021, but the efficacy rate was more modest. The World Health Organization has yet to approve the R-21 vaccine for widespread usage which could leave many questions for Ghana’s neighbors and vaccine funders. Despite that, the phase 3 trial of R-21 has steadily maintained its effectiveness.
The University of Oxford and the Serum Institute of India have done phenomenal work when it comes to the consistency of battling malaria. Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of the Serum Institute of India, says “Developing a vaccine to greatly impact this huge disease burden has been extraordinarily difficult…We remain steadfast in our commitment to scaling up production of the vaccine to meet the needs of countries with high malaria burden and to support global efforts towards saving lives”.
– Zyairah White