The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved a second malaria vaccine, offering a more affordable and accessible alternative to the Mosquirix vaccine.
The R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine has been developed by the University of Oxford and the Serum Institute of India (SII), leveraging Novavax’s adjuvant technology.
The decision was based on the recommendations of two expert groups, suggesting its use in children at risk of the disease.
“For far too long, malaria has threatened the lives of billions of people across the globe, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable amongst us,” Adar Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Institute of India, in an official statement, said.
“This is why the WHO recommendation and approval of the R21/Matrix-M™ vaccine marks a huge milestone on 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.”
“We look forward to scaling up the vaccine production to ensure that it is accessible to those who need it the most,” Poonawalla said.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed his excitement over the development, stating that, as a malaria researcher, he had always dreamed of a safe and effective vaccine against malaria. Now, there are two.
Today is a great day for health, a great day for science, and a great day for vaccines:@WHO is recommending a second vaccine to prevent #malaria in children at risk of the disease, called R21/Matrix-M.
Demand for the RTS,S vaccine far exceeds supply, so the R21 vaccine is a… pic.twitter.com/1trR6fmYMc
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) October 2, 2023
Earlier this year, the vaccine received approval from regulatory authorities in Ghana and Burkina Faso.
However, John Johnson from Doctors Without Borders clarified that this new tool will not replace bed nets and spraying insecticides in the fight against malaria.
In 2021, WHO endorsed the first malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, made by GSK.
Despite being hailed as a “historic” effort to end the devastating impact of malaria on Africa, the vaccine has limitations.
It is only about 30% effective, requires four doses, and protection fades within months.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation withdrew financial support for Mosquirix’s rollout last year due to its limited effectiveness. The foundation suggested that funding would be better used elsewhere.
The new vaccine could significantly reduce severe illness and deaths caused by malaria across Africa if it is widely distributed.
However, neither of the vaccines can stop transmission, so immunization campaigns alone won’t be enough to stop epidemics.