A booster dose of a malaria vaccine developed at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom showed high and long-lasting protection in children, according to a study that brought hope to the fight against the deadly disease.
Malaria, caused by parasites, is both preventable and curable. There were 241 million cases worldwide in 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which led to an estimated 627,000 deaths. Africa concentrates the greatest number of cases and deaths, and children are particularly affected.
The mid-stage findings of the peer-reviewed study were published Wednesday in the health journal The Lancet. A total of 450 participants aged between 5 and 17 months participated in the Burkina Faso study, 409 of whom received a booster.
Participants were randomly divided into three groups, with the first two receiving the R21 vaccine with an adjuvant — a substance that increases the effectiveness of vaccines — at a high or low dose, producing greater and lesser efficacy, respectively. The third group received a rabies vaccine. Each child received an additional dose of the same vaccine they had previously received.
A booster dose of the malaria vaccine was shown to be up to 80% effective in one group and 70% in the other. Efficacy was calculated against the clinical signs of malaria, the scientists said, adding that the vaccine met the WHO’s criteria for efficacy of at least 75%.
“A standard four-dose immunization regimen can now, for the first time, achieve the high level of efficacy in two years that has been an aspirational target for malaria vaccines for many years,” said Professor Adrian Hill, who directs the Jenner Research Institute at the University of Oxford and co-authored the article.
Halidou Tinto, the study’s lead investigator, said it was “fantastic to see such high efficacy again after a single booster dose.”
Katie Ewer of Oxford, another co-author, said it was “possible” that a second booster would not be necessary, although it was too early to say. She added that the data appears “very solid” to study participants, but could change with a wider population.
The vaccine is administered with Novavax’s Matrix-M adjuvant and is licensed to the Serum Institute of India.
Hill of Oxford said the Serum Institute was “willing and able to make 200 million doses a year next year”, but stressed that the challenge would be logistics and distribution in each country. He added that Oxford and the Serum Institute are looking to manufacture the vaccine directly in Africa, although that will “not happen within months”. He declined to give an exact price for the vaccine, which he said would be “a few dollars a dose”.
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves
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