The jab, developed by the Brentford-based pharmaceutical company GSK, was found to reduce the rate of severe malaria by 70% in a study involving nearly 6,000 children aged between five and 17 months in Burkina Faso and Mali.
However, the medical cocktail must be taken in the run-up to the rainy season. Malaria mainly affects children and young people, killing more than 400,000 people each year, mostly in Africa.
Over three years, the trial found three doses of the vaccine and drugs before the worst malaria season, followed by a booster dose before subsequent rainy seasons, controlled infections much better than vaccines or drugs alone, and, the researchers said, could save millions of young lives in the African Sahel.
Scientists say the combined effects of the vaccine and drugs in the trial appear to be surprisingly powerful.
The vaccine, called RTS,S and created by GlaxoSmithKline more than 20 years ago, kills parasites that multiply very quickly in the liver, while anti-malarial drugs target parasites in the body’s red blood cells.
Flu vaccines have been used seasonally, to protect people ahead of winter, for many years – but it has rarely been tried for malaria.
“We welcome this innovative use of a malaria vaccine to prevent disease and death in highly seasonal areas in Africa,” Dr Pedro Alonso, The World Health Organization’s global malaria programme director said.
The vaccine has already reached more than 740,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, as part of routine childhood-vaccine programme.
Scientists are confident that the World Health Organization (WHO) will recommend the vaccine when an expert panel meets in October.
These findings come shortly after German biotech company BioNTech announced the start of its malaria project, which aims to develop safe, effective and sustainable malaria vaccine supply solutions in Africa.
In august, the company said it wanted to build on its success in developing a Covid-19 vaccine (in conjunction with Pfizer) by developing the first vaccine for malaria based on mRNA technology and aims to start clinical testing by the end on 2022.
BioNTech will assess multiple vaccine candidates featuring known malaria targets such as the circumsporozoite protein (CSP), as well as new antigens discovered in the pre-clinical research phase, selecting the most promising ones for clinical development.
The world’s first and only licensed malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline over many years of clinical trial across several African countries, but is only around 30 percent effective.