Coronavirus vaccines have been produced and deployed in record time, but low-income countries have received far too few doses since the global rollout has advanced. It's a stark reminder that the world's poorest people are frequently left behind when it comes to infectious diseases.

Deadlier than Covid

Anopheles Mosquito (IMAGE)
(Photo : Jim Gathany/CDC)

There are viruses far more potent than COVID-19. Malaria, for example, has likely killed four times as many people in Africa in the last year compared to COVID-19. Thankfully, recent evidence suggests that an effective malaria vaccine might be closer than ever before.

Malaria Vaccine

Clinical Trials of the First Novel Coronavirus Vaccine begin in the United States
(Photo : Pixabay)

For the first time, a vaccine has shown high effectiveness in clinical trials, stopping the illness in 77 percent of people who received it. This is a significant accomplishment.

The WHO has set a goal of over 75% efficacy for malaria vaccines. This degree has never been surpassed before.

The rapid development and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines demonstrate what is feasible and can motivate to complete, license, and administer this malaria vaccine. It's important not just because of the danger posed by malaria but also because vaccination will help us plan for the next pandemic. Work on this vaccine has aided in the formulation of the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the World Health Organization, 229 million cases of malaria were recorded in 2019. Malaria kills over 400,000 people a year globally, with little change in the last five years-African children under the age of five accounts for two-thirds of this tragic tragedy.

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Anti-Malaria Initiatives

India: Lead and Nickel Found in Blood Samples of “Mysterious Illness” Patients
(Photo : Pixabay)

Per year, billions of dollars are spent on bed nets, insecticide spraying, and antimalarial medications only to maintain the current mortality rate. New technologies are needed, especially given the WHO's goal of a 90% reduction in deaths by 2030.

Battle Against Malaria

Volcanic glass, potential mosquito population control
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

Though the concept of preventing malaria by vaccination has been around for a long time, no malaria vaccine has yet been approved for use. Algiers provided the first empirical paper in 1910. Clinical research started in the 1940s and became more severe in the 1980s, with over 140 malaria vaccine candidates studied in humans today.

None, though, have made it to the point of acceptance and implementation. The research is challenging. With more than 5,000 genes, the malaria parasite is diverse, allowing vaccine makers to target various characteristics. The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, has just 12 genes, so its spike protein was an obvious choice for vaccine researchers.

Rapid Vaccine Development

A Man about to get his blood tested before receiving covid-19 vaccine
(Photo : Pranidchakan Boo)

However, as shown by a recent study released in The Lancet by a multi-national group of experts, including myself, progress on malaria vaccine production is accelerating. Halidou Tinto's team in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, tested the new R21 malaria vaccine in 450 infants, the most vulnerable group for whom a vaccine is desperately required. They discovered it to be healthy and effective in children aged 5 to 17 months.


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(Photo : Perran Ross / Twitter)

Malaria was infected by 105 of the 147 children who got a placebo in this randomized experiment. Just 81 people out of the 292 who got the vaccine contracted the disease, far exceeding the WHO's goal of 75 percent immunity. A phase 3 experiment, which will assess the vaccine's safety and effectiveness in a much wider group of patients, will begin in four African countries in late April 2021, with accelerated approvals if it is effective.

Rollout Cost

Malaria vaccine rollout would also need funding, but with India's low-cost, large-scale manufacturing capability, an affordable and easily accessible vaccine should be possible. However, as COVID-19 spreads through Africa, it could affect the R21 vaccine phase 3 trials, which will begin soon in Mali, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and Kenya.

The United Kingdom has long been a leader in public health science, with malaria control being one of its most visible initiatives. The cut in foreign assistance spending this year has had a significant impact on funding. However, COVID-19 has emphasized the value of retaining vaccine research and development capability, as well as the possibility of getting closer to vaccine acceptance and delivery than ever before.

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