|Posted on February 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM|
Written by Zoe Thursz
Malaria is one of the biggest killers worldwide, causing the deaths of over 500,000 children in Sub-Saharan Africa every year alone; however there is still no licenced vaccine against it.
Currently, a vaccine known as RTS,S A01 is in phase 3 clinical trials (the last stage of vaccine development), and GlaxoSmithKline, the company developing it, have announced they will apply for a license for the vaccine this year, meaning it could be being administered to 1000s of infants by 2015. This initially sounds like an amazing advance, which will take us a massive step closer to eradication of the disease, however, there are drawbacks. For the vaccine to be most effective, it has to be given between 5-17months, not alongside the childhood immunisation programme at 8 weeks. Even then, the vaccine is still only 50% effective. So in order to provide maximum protection, the children that have been vaccinated still need to use current preventative measures such as bed nets, insecticide spraying and prophylaxis (drugs).
A lot of people, for these reasons, would suggest that the cost of developing a vaccine (around £500million) and its relative lack of protection, only 50%, mean it isn’t a worthwhile preventative method to invest in. However, RTS,S will be the first vaccine ever licensed against a parasite, which is an incredible step forward in what has been a thirty year process of developing it. It is therefore likely to be the first step on an upward progression to achieving a vaccine with maximum protection, and ultimate eradication from malaria. For this reason, whatever the sceptics may say, RTS,S and other promising malaria vaccines, are worth investing in.