Ghana is the first country to approve a new, highly effective malaria vaccine called R21/Matrix-M. The decision is a milestone in efforts to combat the disease that killed 619,000 people In 2021, most of them are young children.
The country’s Food and Drug Authority authorized the shot on April 13 for children aged 3 to 5 — the age group most vulnerable to dying from malaria in areas with high transmission rates. Most countries in Africa, including Ghana, account for 95 percent of malaria cases and 96 percent of deaths worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the region accounts for 80 percent of deaths of children under the age of 5.
Immunization with the most recently approved vaccine consists of three primary doses, followed by a booster shot one year later. While Phase III trials of the vaccine are still ongoing, a Phase II trial conducted in 2019 found that it was 77 percent effective at preventing infection. The only other approved malaria vaccine – Moscurix – made by UK drug company GSK – is about 30 per cent effective at preventing severe disease.
R21/Matrix-M is the first vaccine to exceed WHO’s malaria vaccine efficacy target 75 percent, WHO has not approved it yet, but according to BBC, the organization is reviewing data from an ongoing Phase III trial on 4800 children. The drug’s developer, the University of Oxford, is expected to report data on that trial later this year.
The drug maker Serum Institute of India said in a press release that it has the capacity to produce more than 200 million doses of the drug annually – much more than 15 million GSK has promised an annual dose of Moskurix.
“Malaria is a life-threatening disease that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations in our society and remains a leading cause of death in childhood,” said Adar Poonawala In a press release at the Serum Institute of India. “The licensing of R21/Matrix-M for use in Ghana is an important milestone in our efforts to combat malaria around the world.”