Results of the latest malaria vaccine trials will be published today in The New England Journal of Medicine, and from the looks of it, the news is good–fantastic, in fact. “We are closer than every before to having a malaria vaccine for use by children in Africa, says Christian Lucq, director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative.
First, some background: The new trials use a vaccine candidate known as RTSS, the most clinically advanced malaria vaccine in development. The two tests took place in Kenya and Tanzania, and included 340 and 894 children, respectively. After vaccination, children were visited in their homes to follow up on their health and most importantly, their contraction (or not) of malaria.
Here are some highlights from the results:
* Unlike previous trials, these studies administered the malaria vaccine in conjunction with the normal WHO schedule of vaccines like polio, MMR, and others. There was no interference on either side. That matters because if a malaria vaccine is every to be administered, it is likely to be administered in tandem with others.
* In infants of 8, 12, and 16 weeks, the vaccine reduced malaria infections by 65%.
* In children aged five to 17 months, the incidence of clinical malaria was reduced by 53%.
The results today set the stage for more Phase 3 trials–the last needed before lisencing of the vaccine. Future trials will continue to test safety, efficacy, and the possibility of a “booster” shot lengthening the already lengthy 18-month protection observed. 16,000 children will be involved in 11 sites found in 7 countries.”
According to the CDC, malaria is the fourth leading cause of death among children under five. It kills at least a million people a year, and sickens hundreds of times that number. Besides the horrific burden of disease, death, and misery that malaria places on large chunks of the world, it also puts a serious economic burden on those countries where it’s endemic — which are, as it happens, often the countries that can least afford it.
So a malaria vaccine that’s 50-65% effective would be a wonderful, wonderful thing.