The first malaria vaccine could be available as soon as 2018.
The vaccine, also known as RTS,S, causes the immune system to attack the malaria parasite. It must be administered a total of four times to be effective, once a month for three months then another dose 18 months later. Without the critical fourth dose, the benefits of the vaccine fall short.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is administering the vaccine in the three countries to assess safety and effectiveness. The trials will vaccinate upwards of 750,000 children between five and 17 months old. Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi were chosen due to their high rates of malaria cases.
So far, the vaccination has been tested on 15,000 children and has prevented malaria in about 40% of cases. However, because it has only been tested in highly-controlled clinical settings, the potential of the vaccine in the real-world has yet to be proven.
Here’s Jen Christensen, reporting for CNN:
Other preventative malaria treatment is available for infants, but uptake is “slow,” according to the WHO, and it is being implemented only in Sierra Leone. The hope is that if the vaccine works, it would become a part of the regular vaccine schedule for children in areas with high potential for malaria…
“The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot program will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti , WHO’s regional director for Africa, in a statement. “Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”
Africa is hit hardest by the global malaria epidemic, and most of the millions of deaths caused by malaria are in children. This first malaria vaccine, which has been 30 years in the making, will help experts make decisions about how to proceed with their efforts to combat the disease.
While the prospect of an effective malaria vaccine has tremendous potential, it’s unclear whether people will return for all four doses, and whether they can be administered in a timely manner.
WHO’s hopes to eliminate malaria by 2040, and if this vaccine is successful, it could be a significant first step.