Malaria Vaccine: Scientists are Closing in on Breakthrough

A species of mosquito known as the Anopheles mosquito (and only the female of this species) can carry the Plasmodium parasite which is transferred to humans through the mosquito’s bite and results in the contraction of malaria.

The Plasmodium parasite dodges and dives all lines of defence fired off by the immune system which makes malaria the most deadly disease across the globe. 

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 1500 – 2000 cases of malaria were diagnosed in the USA alone in the year 2015 and the World Health Organization recorded a global total of 214 million cases of malaria with the most cases occurring in the African Region.

Prevention in the form of medication, which is taken when in high risk malaria zones, has been the only way of preventing the parasite from spreading.  Malaria prevention medication makes the consumer feel ill and can mask the symptoms of malaria resulting in the disease spreading further; unnoticed. 

It is no small wonder why scientists have been working around the clock in order to create an effective vaccine which can be administered around the world.  The dream of this life-saving vaccine is on its way to becoming a reality.

One vaccine, Sanaria PfSPZ-CVac, contains the whole parasite which undergoes radiation in order to make it harmless.  It was administered to a test group of 67 healthy adults.  The 67 test subjects were given varying doses of the vaccine and only nine of the test subjects were administered the full 3 doses.  Nine out of the nine test subjects who were given the full 3 dose treatment did not contract malaria when exposed to the Plasmodium parasite.

This clinical case study still have some hurdles to clear before it is proven effective. The tests were only conducted with a small group of people, all 67 test subjects were healthy adults and they were all able to receive their specific dose of the vaccine because it was performed in a controlled environment. 

Photograph shows an anopheles minimus a malaria vector of the orient mosquito from a lateral perspectiveThe vaccine could prove problematic when it is tested on people around the world who are already ill due to other diseases and other variables could interfere with the effectiveness of the vaccine. It will be enough of a challenge administering the full 3 doses to large populations over the restrictive 28 day time period.

Scientists have also developed a second, less effective but still promising, vaccine.  The second vaccine is known as RTS,S or Mosquirix. A study proved it had a 50 percent success rate in preventing malaria in children. 

The World Health Organization is going ahead with a pilot programme, which will take place in three countries, to monitor the effectiveness of Mosquirix and make adjustments in order to improve its effectiveness. 

Mosquirix is a multi-dose dose vaccine which presents the same drawbacks as the Sanaria vaccine.  The pilot programme will be incredibly beneficial as scientists will be able to report on the effectiveness of the Mosquirix vaccine, improve the vaccine and draw definitive conclusions on multi-dose vaccines and how effective they are in real world scenarios.

The vaccines will have to be monitored over a long period of time in order to draw definitive conclusions and ensure there are no long-term side effects caused by the vaccines.  The development and testing of new vaccines can take years, but it is remarkable that scientists have developed two effective vaccines against this tricky disease and the future is bright for the control and prevention of malaria which has taken many lives over many years and needs to be stopped. 

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