New Delhi: The world got the second malaria vaccine known as R21/Matrix-M, earlier this month, with the World Health Organization (WHO) giving an approval for the usage of the vaccine after meeting required safety, quality and effectiveness standards. The vaccine will now be able to reduce the burden of over half a million malaria-related deaths annually. Malaria is a disease that is caused by a complex parasite, which is spread by the bite of blood-sucking mosquitoes.
In 2021, WHO had approved the first malaria vaccine. United Nations agency has described the vaccine development as an “historic” effort to end the deadly disease in the world, including Africa, the continent that is home to most of the world’s estimated 200 million malaria cases and witnesses 400,000 malaria deaths.
Here’s a quick lowdown on things to know about R21/Matrix-M vaccine:
1. Who Developed The Vaccine: The vaccine has been developed by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and is licensed to the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer as well as a long-term partner of Oxford University. According to the official statement by the Oxford University, the Serum Institute has already established production capacity for 100 million doses per annum, which will be doubled over the next two years.
2. About The Vaccine: According to the official statement the new vaccine is a three-shot course, that will mainly target the younger age group or children as malaria kills mostly babies and infants. It is being said that the vaccine will be able to protect people for another year with an additional shot called a booster. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the shot would cost about $2 to $4.
3. Efficacy Of The Vaccine: As per the statement, the vaccine has recently reached the primary one-year endpoint in a pivotal large-scale Phase III clinical trial that included 4,800 children across Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania. Currently, the Phase III trial results are under peer review. The data that has been published online shows the R21 vaccine is 75% effective at preventing the disease in areas where malaria is seasonal.
4. Roll Out Plan: According to the university statement, additional regulatory approvals are expected to follow shortly and R21/Matrix-M vaccine doses could be ready to begin wider roll-out as early as next year.
5. What Experts Said: In a press briefing in Geneva that was held last week, the WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “As a Malaria researcher, I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria. Now we have two.”
The official statement by University of Oxford and Serum Institute quotes Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India,
For far too long, Malaria has threatened the lives of billions of people across the globe, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable amongst us. This is why the WHO recommendation and approval of the R21/Matrix-M vaccine marks a huge milestone in our journey to combat this life-threatening disease, showing what exactly can be achieved when the public and private sector, scientists and researchers, all work together towards a shared goal. As we continue to work together to create a healthier, more equitable world for everyone, I am incredibly proud of the part that the Serum Institute of India has played in developing the R21 malaria vaccine. We look forward to scaling up the vaccine production to ensure that it is accessible to those who need it the most.
The statement further quotes Professor Sir Adrian Hill, Director of The Jenner Institute & Lakshmi Mittal and family Professor of Vaccinology, University of Oxford and states,
The R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine has been shown to be safe and highly effective across multiple clinical studies. 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.
Highlighting that University of Oxford is running one of the most active malaria programmes in the world, Dr Mehreen Datoo, Academic Clinical Fellow in Infectious Diseases & Microbiology at The Jenner Institute, University of Oxford said in a statement,
Today’s achievement would not be possible without the efforts of our international partners, their incredible field teams, and of course, the participants and their caregivers. This is a significant milestone in the fight against malaria but there is still more to do – we are already working on new vaccine candidates to target other malaria parasites and clinical trials focussed on eradication of malaria.
Global Threat of Malaria
WHO tags malaria as a life-threatening disease spread to humans by some types of mosquitoes. It is mostly found in tropical countries, but is preventable and curable. The infection is caused by a parasite and does not spread from person to person.
According to WHO, in 2021, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria. That year, there were an estimated 247 million cases of malaria worldwide and the estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 619,000 in 2021.
Talking about India, according to WHO, three countries accounts for 98% of the total reported cases in the South Asian region and the main contributor is India (58%), followed by Indonesia (30%) and Myanmar (10%).
However, WHO’s World Malaria Report (WMR) 2020 that gives the estimated cases for malaria across the world, based on mathematical projections, indicates that India has made considerable progress in reducing its malaria burden. The report states that India is the only high endemic country which has reported a decline of 17.6% in 2019 as compared to 2018. It also adds that India has also contributed to the largest drop in cases region-wide, from approximately 20 million to about 6 million.
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