A vaccine against malaria developed by the University of Oxford has been found to be 77% effective in a Phase IIb trial conducted in Burkina Faso. 

The vaccine is the most effective one to be developed against malaria so far. The Mosquirix vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline was found to be only 39% effective at preventing malaria infections, and 29% of severe malaria cases. The vaccine was developed by Oxford University in partnership with the Serum Institute of India and Novavax was the first to achieve the efficacy target of at least 75% which was set out by the World Health Organisation.

Malaria is the sixth largest cause of death in developing countries, killing an estimated 400,000 people a year. Most of these deaths occur in young children. The disease’s symptoms include a high fever, muscle pains, and diarrhea. These can lead to fatal complications such as dehydration, anaemia, and organ failure.  

Director of the Jenner Institute, Professor Adrian Hill, said: “These new results support our high expectations for the potential of this vaccine, which we believe is the first to reach the WHO’s goal of a vaccine for malaria with at least 75% efficacy.

“With the commitment by our commercial partner, the Serum Institute of India, to manufacture at least 200 million doses annually in the coming years, the vaccine has the potential to have a major public health impact if licensure is achieved”.

The disease is caused by single-cell parasites from the genus Plasmodium. Plasmodium infects its host via the bite of an Anopheles mosquito, and reproduces inside the host’s red blood cells. 

INLINE A map showing the historic and present prevalence of malaria in 2009. Image: World Development Report / CC BY SA via Wikimedia Commons

Common preventative measures against the disease include prophylactic medications and sleeping under mosquito nets impregnated with insecticide. Professor Hill emphasised that such measures should continue, but added that the Jenner Institute might apply for emergency approval for the vaccine. 

Professor Charlemagne Ouédraogo, Minister of Health in Burkina Faso said: “Malaria is one of the leading causes of childhood mortality in Africa. We have been supporting trials of a range of new vaccine candidates in Burkina Faso and these new data show that licensure of a very useful new malaria vaccine could well happen in the coming years. That would be an extremely important new tool for controlling malaria and saving many lives”.

The researchers are currently recruiting 4,800 volunteers for the third phase of the trial. While the second phase included 450 participants aged between 5-17 months who live in the Nanoro agea of Burkina Faso, Phase III will include volunteers aged 4-36 months across four African countries. 

Director of Advocacy at Malaria No More UK, Gareth Jenkins, said: “An effective and safe malaria vaccine would be a hugely significant extra weapon in the armoury needed to defeat malaria, which still kills over 270,000 children every year. For decades, British scientists have been at the forefront of developing new ways to detect, diagnose, test and treat malaria, and we must continue to back them.

“A world without malaria is a world safer both for the children who would otherwise be killed by this disease, and for us here at home. Countries freed from the malaria burden will be much better equipped to fight off new disease threats when they inevitably emerge in the future.”

Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Library / Public Domain


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