Donors needed to fund malaria vaccine

It costs about $20 to fully vaccinate a child against the killer disease

A London professor who played a pivotal role in ground-breaking malaria vaccine trials is urging philanthropists and influential foundations to put up funds for inoculations to prevent child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Health Organisation’s approval of the RTS,S – or Mosquirix – vaccine was hailed as a game-changer in the battle against the disease, which kills 500,000 people each year, mainly in African countries.

Scientists have for decades struggled to develop an effective vaccine against malaria because it is caused by a parasite.

About half of the fatalities are in children, meaning one child dies from the disease every two minutes.

But despite the landmark development, Prof Brian Greenwood from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told The National that potential donors were unlikely to start rushing in with open wallets.

He predicted “there won’t necessarily be enough money” poured into the common pot at once for manufacturers to drive up production to a mass scale.

He suggested influential figures and foundations in Britain should step forward to fill the gap, saying: “I think it would be very good but they know it’s a lot of money.

“The donor community will have to make a decision now on how much to put forward,” he said.

Prof Greenwood said supporting the game-changing vaccination programme would not come cheap. Four doses of the jab, which each cost $5 to produce, are needed to fully inoculate each child. On top of that are the logistical costs.

Funding for the WHO-approved jab is co-ordinated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Prof Greenwood, who is involved in discussions with Gavi and other key players in the vaccine programme, declined to give an exact figure on the target amount of money needed to inoculate children in countries hard hit by malaria.

“It will be quite a lot of money. It will depend on the donations being contributed,” he said.

GSK, the UK pharmaceutical company, has so far committed to making 15 million doses of Mosquirix a year up to 2028, with a profit margin of 5 per cent.

The company said it is up to the international community to decide whether more doses are needed and to fund them if necessary.

Trials have for years been conducted in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi on more than 800,000 infants, with the results showing that the vaccine has limited efficacy.

These were partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Over the course of four years, the jab was found to prevent 39 per cent of malaria cases and 29 per cent of severe malaria cases among young children.

Another malaria vaccine, developed by researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK, in a recent study showed up to 77 per cent efficacy. The vaccine is still undergoing trials.

Updated: October 7th 2021, 3:29 PM