Serum Institute deploys first doses of Oxford, Novavax-partnered malaria shot to Africa

As some industry efforts to deliver vaccines to Africa have fallen by the wayside, Serum Institute of India (SII), together with the U.K.’s University of Oxford and U.S.-based Novavax, are making good on their pledge.

Monday, SII—the world’s biggest vaccine producer by number of doses—said it shipped the first tranche of R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccines to Africa. The initial shipment is headed for the Central African Republic, while subsequent deliveries to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are expected to arrive in the “next coming days,” SII said in a press release.

SII said it has released 43,200 doses so far for the Central African Republic. To date, SII claims it has cranked out 25 million doses of the shot, with capacity on deck to scale up to 100 million doses annually in the future.

The vaccine—the second authorized option for use in kids in malaria-endemic regions behind GSK’s Mosquirix—utilizes Novavax’s Matrix-M adjuvant. The R21/Matrix-M shot itself was co-developed by SII and the University of Oxford.

The vaccine’s Africa rollout comes after R21/Matrix-M won backing for use in children from the World Health Organization (WHO) in October. The partners claim the shot is easily deployed, cost-effective and could help save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

In 2022, Africa was home to 94% of all malaria cases (233 million) and 95% (580,000) of malaria deaths, according to WHO. Children under 5 accounted for about 80% of malaria deaths on the continent that year.

SII's delivery pledge comes on the heels of several failed promises in the region in recent years.

Notably, Moderna last month revealed it was rethinking its decision to build a $500 million vaccine plant in the region after it hadn’t received any shot orders from the continent since 2022. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was quick to hit back, arguing that Moderna’s move only served to perpetuate the inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent.

“While other vaccine manufacturers are progressing with their plans and construction in Africa, Moderna is abandoning a commitment to build highly needed and relevant vaccine manufacturing capabilities in Africa,” the local health agency said last April.

And last year, Bloomberg reported that BioNTech was not moving forward with a previous plan to establish a vaccine plant in South Africa.

Meanwhile, GSK snagged the first supply contract for its malaria vaccine Mosquirix in the summer of 2022. At the time, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) agreed to pay up to $170 million to access 18 million doses of the shot over the next three years.