7 people contract malaria every second. We are finally on the verge of engineering a vaccine to stymie one of the world’s most relentless killers

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Credit: Thoko Chikondi
Credit: Thoko Chikondi

In a study published in The Lancet on [May 5th] an international team has shared promising new data on a potential vaccine. The phase two trial, based on 450 children in Nanoro, evaluated the R21 malaria vaccine candidate, which has been under development in the United Kingdom for more than a decade.

Researchers found that after children received three shots in an eight-week period and a booster 12 months later, the R21 vaccine was 77 percent effective at stopping malaria, when compared against a control rabies vaccine, rather than a standard placebo.

R21 is the first vaccine candidate for malaria to cross the 75 percent threshold, a goal the World Health Organisation (WHO) first set in 2013. 

The stakes are high. In 2019, the world saw an estimated 229 million cases of malaria, which killed some 409,000 people—two thirds of whom were young children.

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To put this in perspective, [the new vaccine] about the same efficacy as the efficacy of a bed net—and we’ve seen the dramatic decline in malaria morbidity and mortality with bed nets,” says WHO epidemiologist Mary Hamel, who manages the organisation’s Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program. “This is something you could add on top.”

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