Millions of young African lives could be saved after a study suggested the world’s first malaria vaccine cut deaths and serious illness from the disease by up to 70 per cent.
A trial followed about 6,000 children aged 5-17 months in Burkina Faso and Mali, two countries afflicted heavily by the mosquito-borne disease. Normally, they would be given antimalarial drugs four times during the rainy season when malaria occurs predominantly in the region.
While the use of medicines such as sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine and amodiaquine “is highly effective” in preventing malaria, the disease is still the main cause of death and serious illness among children under the age of 5 in countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali.
But research into the RTS, S/AS01E vaccine, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and co-ordinated by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine with partners in Mali and Burkina Faso, found the combination of the inoculation and antimalarial drugs could reduce the risk of death substantially.
Prof Brian Greenwood from LSHTM said the “results are very striking and could pave the way for a potential new approach to malaria control”.
Prof Daniel Chandramohan from LSHTM said: “The results of the trial were much more successful than we had anticipated. Our work has shown a combination approach using a malaria vaccine seasonally – similar to how countries use influenza vaccine has the potential to save millions of young lives in the African Sahel. Importantly, we didn’t observe any new concerning pattern of side effects.
“Further research is now needed to examine how seasonal malaria vaccination could be delivered most effectively at scale.”
The vaccine was developed by British company GlaxoSmithKline.
The World Health Organisation says there were 229 million malaria cases and 409,000 malaria deaths in 2019, most of them in children under 5.
Prof Alassane Dicko, of the Malaria Research and Training Centre in Bamako, Mali, said the “new malaria tackling tool could mean the disease is no longer the primary cause of death or hospital admissions in our settings for the very first time".
“This is wonderful news for malaria control," she said. "We look forward to a quick policy decision and addition of this new tool to reduce the intolerable burden of malaria in our region.”
Prof Jean-Bosco Ouedraogo, of Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Sante in Burkina Faso, said “collaboration among malaria endemic countries and with northern partners is essential to succeeding against malaria”.
“I am really proud of the contribution of our African research teams to these fantastic results," he said. "I hope that this evidence will be taken into account by decision-makers as a new additional strategy for saving children’s lives in Africa.”
The authors said that, if seasonal malaria vaccines become commonplace, work needed to be done to see how it could be effectively delivered within protection programmes.