MOST PROMISING

Malaria vaccine being tested in Kenya enters homestretch

It is about 77 per cent effective, passing the WHO threshold of 75 per cent

In Summary

•The Kenyan children taking part in the ongoing phase three trials for R21 were recruited in Kilifi last year by the Kemri-Wellcome Trust.

•World Health Organization said R21 would not replace but complement the RTS,S.

A researcher stores vials of the R21 malaria vaccine.
A researcher stores vials of the R21 malaria vaccine.
Image: Oxford

At least 600 Kenyan children are taking part in the trial of a new malaria vaccine that could be a game changer in the fight against the disease.

The R21/Matrix-M vaccine candidate was developed by the University of Oxford and the Serum Institute of India and is currently the most promising malaria vaccine.

It is about 77 per cent effective, compared to about 30 per cent efficacy of the RTS,S vaccine already in use in Kenya.

The Kenyan children taking part in the ongoing phase three trials for R21 were recruited in Kilifi last year by the Kemri-Wellcome Trust.

World Health Organization said R21, despite its higher efficacy, would not replace but complement the RTS,S.

“RTS,S is a first-generation vaccine that could be complemented in the future by other vaccines with similar or higher efficacy,” WHO said in a statement.

“WHO welcomes progress in the development of R21/Matrix-M and other malaria vaccine candidates in early clinical development.”

The R21 trial in Kenya is led by the head of clinical research at the Kemri-Wellcome Trust research programme Dr Mainga Hamaluba.

It seeks to assess the vaccine’s, efficacy, safety, and tolerability among infants and young children.

The manufacturers are aiming for licensure and rapid large-scale deployment by 2023.

The Kenyan children are being given four vaccinations.

They are three primary vaccinations one month apart then a booster, 12 months after the third dose.

Their blood samples are then taken to assess immune responses around the time of vaccination.

In Kenya, there are about 3.5 million new clinical malaria cases and 10,700 deaths every year.

People living around Lake Victoria have a higher risk of malaria, according to the Kenya Malaria Indicator Survey.

Approximately 70 per cent of the population is at risk for malaria, including 13 million people in endemic areas, the survey shows.

To stem the spread, Kenya officially launched the use of the RTS,S vaccine on September 13, 2019, in Ndhiwa, Homa Bay, after successful trials across 26 subcounties in eight endemic counties in the Lake Basin.

They include Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga, and Kakamega.

Ministry of Health data indicates 900,000 doses have so far been administered to children in the eight endemic counties.

The data further shows 275,000 children have received at least one out of the four scheduled doses of the vaccine.

It says more than 45,000 children have received the full course of four doses of the vaccine.

WHO country representative Joyce Onsongo said the Global Vaccine Alliance and other funding agencies have committed to financially supporting countries to increase vaccination beyond their current status.

“The World Health Organization is steering forward to make sure that these vaccines are going to be equitably available to those countries that need them,” Onsongo said.

WHO said the ongoing pilots have shown that the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is safe and feasible to deliver and that it substantially reduces deadly severe malaria.

RTS,S was made by GSK.

 

Edited by Kiilu Damaris

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