Ghana on Thursday became the first country to approve a new malaria vaccine for young children, one that officials hope will offer better protection against the disease that kills hundreds of thousands every year.
Final results from late-stage trials have not yet been published, and the vaccine is under review at the World Health Organization. But preliminary results from early testing of the new vaccine, developed at the University of Oxford, have suggested the vaccine is far more effective than the only malaria vaccine now authorized for use by the WHO.
Late-stage testing of the vaccine still is underway in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania, with results expected later this year.
Results from an earlier trial released last year showed that in children vaccinated in Burkina Faso, the vaccine was up to 80% effective depending how much of an immune-boosting ingredient was included in the shots.
The WHO has already rolled out a pilot program of the world’s first authorized malaria vaccine, piloted in three African countries, including Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. But that vaccine, sold by GlaxoSmithKline as Mosquirix, is about 30% effective.
It’s not clear how soon the new vaccine will be available. Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority approved its use for children ages 5 months to 36 months, the group at highest risk of death from malaria, its developers said in a statement.
Once the new Oxford vaccine is in use, Ghanaian health officials will weigh the “pros and cons before making a final decision” on which one is more effective, said Kwame Amponsa-Achiano the head of Ghana’s immunization program. Ghana is currently using the WHO-approved vaccine.
The new vaccine can be manufactured at large scale and modest cost, its developers say. The Serum Institute of India says it can potentially manufacture more than 200 million doses annually with a factory being constructed in Ghana’s capital Accra.
Ghana's decision to approve the vaccine quickly was welcomed by health officials on the continent.
“We should learn from the COVID-19 vaccines that were approved within one year," said Halidou Tinto, director of research in parasitology at the Institute for Health Sciences Research in Nanoro and head of the vaccine trial in Burkina Faso.
"(The) more we wait (the) more we’ll have thousands of children dying from malaria,” he said.
Associated Press reporter Francis Kokutse in Accra, Ghana and Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi contributed.