The World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed the introduction of a low-cost, mass-producible malaria vaccine.

It is the second malaria vaccine to be created, and it was created by the University of Oxford. One of the worst scourges on humanity, malaria kills primarily children and infants.

Already, contracts have been made to produce more than 100 million doses annually. The creation of malaria vaccinations has required more than a century of scientific research.

A complex parasite that spreads through the bite of blood-sucking mosquitoes is the source of the sickness. It is much more complex than a virus since it constantly changes its structure inside the human body to evade our immune system. This makes it challenging to naturally acquire immunity to malaria through infection and challenging to create a vaccine against it.

It has been nearly two years to the day that the WHO approved the first vaccine, known as RTS,S and created by GSK.

Two similar vaccines

The WHO’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed his “great pleasure” at the news. He said, “I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria, now we have two.”

The effectiveness of the two vaccines, according to the WHO, was “very similar,” and there was no evidence to support the idea that one was superior to the other. The ability to produce the University of Oxford vaccine, known as R21, at scale, however, makes a significant difference.

The Serum Institute of India, the biggest vaccine producer in the world, is already set up to generate more than 100 million doses annually and has ambitions to increase output to 200 million doses annually.

Only 18 million doses of RTS,S are now on the market. The new R21 vaccination has been called a “vital additional tool” in the fight against malaria, according to the WHO. The price of the R21 vaccine is around half that of RTS,S, costing between $2 and $4 (£1.65 to £3.30) each dosage and requiring four injections per person.

Both vaccines target the same phase of the malaria parasite’s lifecycle and use comparable technologies. The more recent vaccine, R21, is simpler to produce since it uses a simpler adjuvant (a chemical added to the vaccination to boost the immune system) and requires a lesser dose.

Malaria had 247 million reported cases in 2021, which led to 619,000 fatalities, the bulk of whom were young children under the age of five. The majority of malaria cases—over 95%—occur in Africa.

Life-saving potential

The WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, has said, “This second vaccine holds real potential to close the huge demand-and-supply gap. Delivered to scale and rolled out widely, the two vaccines can help bolster malaria prevention and control efforts and save hundreds of thousands of young lives.”

The R21 vaccine is 75% effective at preventing malaria in regions where the disease is seasonal, according to information that has been published online, despite not having gone through the customary scientific review procedure. This number is comparable to that of the first vaccination, RTS,S, in countries where there is a seasonal malaria epidemic, according to the WHO’s strategic advisory group of specialists.

In areas where the malaria parasite is present all year round, the efficiency of malaria vaccines tends to be reduced.

The R21 vaccine was developed at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, under the direction of Prof. Sir Adrian Hill, who also made the following comment: “The vaccine is easily deployable, cost-effective, and affordable, ready for distribution in areas where it is needed most, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives a year.”

We cannot afford to be complacent as new tools are developed, warned Gareth Jenkins, speaking on behalf of Malaria No More UK. “The reality is that malaria financing globally is far from where it needs to be, and annual deaths from malaria rose during the pandemic and are still above pre-pandemic levels,” he said.