Ghana has become the first country to approve a new malaria vaccine for young children.
Officials hope it will offer better protection against the disease that kills hundreds of thousands every year.
Final results from late-stage trials have not yet been published, and the vaccine is under review at the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Preliminary results from early testing of the new vaccine, developed at the University of Oxford, have suggested the vaccine is far more effective than the only malaria vaccine now authorised for use by the WHO.
Results from an earlier trial released last year showed that in children vaccinated in Burkina Faso, the vaccine was up to 80% effective depending how much of an immune-boosting ingredient was included in the shots.
WHO has already rolled out a pilot programme of the world’s first authorised malaria vaccine, piloted in three African countries, including Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. But that vaccine, sold by GlaxoSmithKline as Mosquirix, is about 30% effective.
That vaccine “is saving lives” in the three pilot countries and has been delivered to more than 1.4 million children, according to Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman.
Mr Jasarevic said its advisory panel on malaria vaccines is reviewing available information on on the new vaccine but is waiting for more date about its safety and efficacy from ongoing trials.
“Initial results appear promising,” he said.
“We would welcome a second malaria vaccine that is safe and efficacious and approved by WHO to complement the roll-out of the first malaria vaccine.”
It is not clear how soon the new vaccine will be available. Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority approved its use for children aged five months to 36 months, the group at highest risk of death from malaria, its developers said in a statement.
Once the new Oxford vaccine is in use, Ghanaian health officials will weigh the “pros and cons before making a final decision” on which one is more effective, said Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, the head of Ghana’s immunisation program. Ghana is currently using the WHO-approved vaccine.
The new vaccine can be manufactured at large scale and modest cost, its developers say. The Serum Institute of India says it can potentially manufacture more than 200 million doses annually with a factory being constructed in Ghana’s capital Accra.
Ghana’s decision to approve the vaccine quickly was welcomed by health officials on the continent.
“We should learn from the Covid-19 vaccines that were approved within one year,” said Halidou Tinto, director of research in parasitology at the Institute for Health Sciences Research in Nanoro and head of the vaccine trial in Burkina Faso.
“(The) more we wait (the) more we’ll have thousands of children dying from malaria,” he said.