This year has been a year of vaccines: new vaccines for Covid-19, 100 years of the tuberculosis vaccine and in October 2021, the “birth” of the most awaited vaccine was announced – Welcome Malaria vaccine! Apart from Covid-19 which to date has been reported to have caused approximately 4.9 million deaths over the last two years, malaria remains responsible for the largest number of deaths worldwide every year. It kills an estimated 400,000 people every year – mainly children under 5. For this reason, the World Health Organization (WHO) announcement of the malaria vaccine in October 2021 was an overdue, but very much welcomed announcement. More so, the vaccine is said to be effective for the most deadly type of malaria, which the Plasmodium Falciparum.
How did we reach there?
The testing of the vaccine has been going on at a small scale (called a pilot
study) since 2019 in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. So far, at least 800,000 children have received the vaccine. The current recommendation for the vaccine which is called the RTS, S/AS01 malaria vaccine is that children from the age of 5 months should receive up to four doses. So far, it has been shown that families of the children who received the vaccine did not reduce the use of mosquito nets and that deaths from malaria reduced by
up to 30%. There is not much else that is known about the vaccine. For now,
the WHO has advised countries with a high burden of malaria, like Uganda, to start using the vaccine on a large scale. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has offered to fund the continuation of the research on the vaccine and also the initial roll out in the countries in need of the vaccine
Why has it taken so long for a vaccine for malaria to be developed?
Malaria vaccines have been in development since the 1960s, with substantial progress in the last decade. While the process has taken
an extraordinarily long time, it is not unusual for vaccines against parasites
(malaria is caused by parasites) to take such a long time and even longer to
develop. Also, the malaria parasite has a very complex life cycle and the parasite has an advanced genetic make-up that helps it to produce many different antigens (chemicals produced by infections) so that it is hard to determine which one the vaccine being developed should be targeting. There are more than 12 malaria vaccines in the development and testing phase. The one that has been declared ready for use has been in development for close to 40 years. Think about that. Some of the scientists
working on the vaccine were not yet even born when the work on the vaccine commenced. Another vaccine that was showing signs of working well is the irradiated whole sporozoite PfSPZ Vaccine made by Sanaria®. This vaccine works on the stage of the malaria parasite that mates
to form more parasites. It inactivates it so that the parasite can no longer
reproduce. Unfortunately, while the vaccine was safe in children, it did not reduce malaria transmission and deaths. Other quite promising vaccines are still being studied. The world malaria consortium has set as its strategic goals for malaria vaccines by 2030 the following
While we wait for more malaria vaccines to be developed, we celebrate the one that is now open for use. Also, the use of other malaria prevention approaches should still be encouraged; especially, sleeping under mosquito nets and when possible, indoor spraying to kill mosquitoes.
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