Professor Ally Olotu had a problem. He was running the Tanzanian arm of a massive trial on a game-changing malaria vaccine, one part of an effort that spans four continents – but another disease, COVID-19, was threatening to stop the trial in its tracks. Travel was shutting down across the world and countries went into lockdown, while medical personnel were swamped treating the new disease – at a risk to their own lives. Just as the need for vaccines was hurled into sharp relief, progress on this vaccine against an ancient killer risked stalling altogether.
Yet, three years later, Olotu’s team, part of a consortium led by Professor Adrian Hill in Oxford, have announced to the world that the first highly effective vaccine against malaria was ready for use. In the face of everything from sceptical populations to vast logistical headaches, over countless all-hours video calls, the decentralised team would monitor and care for thousands of participants, and deliver vital proof that the R21-Matrix M vaccine was our most powerful weapon so far in the journey to eradicating malaria.