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Scientists behind Oxford Covid jab now beat malaria

Jane Flanagan, May 2, 2022 6:30PM Kids News

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Students mark the World Malaria Day at a government hospital on the outskirts of the Indian town of Amritsar on April 25, 2022. The R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine could be a step towards eradicating the virus that claims the life of a young child every minute. Picture: AFP media_cameraStudents mark the World Malaria Day at a government hospital on the outskirts of the Indian town of Amritsar on April 25, 2022. The R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine could be a step towards eradicating the virus that claims the life of a young child every minute. Picture: AFP

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One of the world’s most deadly and enduring* public health challenges appears to have been cracked by scientists behind the Oxford coronavirus jab.

Malaria kills a young child every minute, most of them African. A century after research into the disease began, trials have shown a vaccine produced by the Jenner Institute to be the most effective weapon developed against it.

The breakthrough is a bigger achievement than the Covid-19 vaccine.

“This was by far a much more difficult vaccine to make work,” said Jenner Institute director Adrian Hill during a visit to field trials of the R21/Matrix-M malaria jab in northern Tanzania. Creating the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was a brief diversion* in Professor Hill’s decades-long effort to find one to prevent malaria.

“This is what it has all been leading up to,” said Professor Hill, 63.

“Researchers have been at this since 1908. We are finally – nearly – at the finish line.”

media_cameraJenner Institute director Professor Adrian Hill diverted his work on a malaria vaccine to a Covid-19 vaccine when the pandemic hit in 2020. Picture: Oxford University

Earlier trials in west Africa found R21 offered an unprecedented* 77 per cent rate of protection. A final, large-scale assessment, involving 4800 children in four African countries, is so far just as encouraging.

Professor Hill’s professional course was set by a 1980s stint as a clinical fellow* in Gambia, where he found rows of unconscious children with malaria for whom he could do very little. “They would come in and die in front of you,” the scientist said.

09/12/2008 WIRE: In this photo provided by Darby Communications a child is vaccinated by an unidentified worker as part of a Malaria vaccine trial in Bagamoyo, Tanzania in Aug. 2007. A vaccine that may become the world's first to prevent malaria shows promise in protecting African children, researchers said Monday Dec. 8, 2008, calling the results a "major milestone." In early tests, the experimental vaccine was more than 50 percent effective in preventing the deadly disease in infants and toddlers in two countries in Africa, the scientists said. A larger and longer test is expected to begin early next year, the latest effort at slowing a disease that kills nearly 1 million people annually. (AP Photo/Darby Communications, John-Michael Maas) media_cameraA nurse gives a malaria vaccine to a baby during a trial in Tanzania, Africa, in 2007. Picture: AP Photo/Darby Communications

The world’s first and second licences for malaria vaccines are expected next year, both developed in Britain: R21 and the RTS,S jab which the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline began work on in 1987.

Licences for vaccines are granted by health authorities after experts examine data from trials and also look at manufacturing and quality controls, and how the vaccines will be safely supplied and distributed.

When the pandemic struck in 2020, the Oxford team’s focus switched from the malaria vaccine to developing a Covid-19 vaccine. It had spent three years planning with the Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturers, how they might get the R21 malaria vaccine to millions of children in Africa each year.

media_cameraThe Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine was produced by the same team that has come up with the R21//Matrix-M malaria vaccine. Picture: AFP

That momentum, with exceptional results of the jab’s early trials, spurred both teams “to really go for Covid”, Professor Hill said.

The logistic* speed and scale to produce almost two billion doses of the Covid vaccine was unprecedented.

Malaria is a much harder target for a vaccine than Covid. The parasite has spent millennia* evolving* and working out how to evade human immune systems.

Yet, while a Covid-free world looks difficult, eradicating* malaria is achievable. The first year of the Covid pandemic saw malaria deaths in Africa rise to the highest in a decade as resources were diverted.

In this 2005 photo made available by the University of Notre Dame via the CDC, an Anopheles funestus mosquito takes a blood meal from a human host. The quest for the world's first malaria vaccine appears to have taken a big step. The first results from a late-stage test in seven African countries were released 18/10/2011. They show the experimental shots cut the number of cases of malaria in half in young children. In Africa, the major vectors for malaria are the Anopheles funestus and Anopheles gambiae. media_cameraScientists are on the verge of getting a licence for a vaccine to protect against malaria which is spread by mosquitos. Picture: AP

This story was originally published by The Times.

GLOSSARY

  • enduring: lasting over time
  • diversion: change of direction
  • unprecedented: never done or known before
  • clinical fellow: a medical doctor who has completed their general studies and is now training in a special area of health
  • logistic: to do with an organisation and planning
  • millennia: thousands of years
  • evolving: developing gradually
  • eradicating: destroying completely, bringing to an end

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How often does malaria kill a young child?
  2. Which Covid-19 vaccine did this team produce?
  3. What is the name of their malaria vaccine?
  4. How many children from how many African countries were involved in the final trials of the malaria vaccine?
  5. What did Professor Hill see in the 1980s that made him decide to work on a malaria vaccine?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. What is malaria?
Research to find out more about malaria and write a short paragraph to summarise what you discover. You could include:

  • the symptoms
  • how it is spread
  • who is impacted by it
  • the likelihood of recovery
  • treatments and preventive measures

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

2. Extension
The trade-off for focusing attention on creating a Covid-19 vaccine is that resources were diverted away from working on malaria vaccines. Do you think this was the right decision? Explain your reasoning in detail.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Ethical Understanding

VCOP ACTIVITY
I spy nouns
Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).

How many nouns can you find in the article?

Can you sort them into places, names and time?

Pick three nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.

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