For more than two decades, scientists have been working on a malaria vaccine for children, but saw little progress. However, in recent times, efforts have yielded more positive results, the most significant of which resulted in clinical trials – the first time a potential malaria vaccine was reaching this milestone.

When tested on about 16,000 children from seven African countries, the results indicated an “almost effective” vaccine. Though for kids aged 5-17 months, the vaccine was only 46 percent effective. Experts remain optimistic that the future is bright for malaria-stricken communities. “I hoped the vaccine would be more effective, but we were never going to end up with the success seen in measles vaccines with 97 percent efficacy,” Prof Brian Greenwood, study author and professor of clinical tropical medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine commented. The trial vaccinations were done at 11 sites across Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Many scientists describe the malaria parasite as being “very clever and complicated.” It has a complicated life cycle and evolves into an organism that evades the immune system over hundreds of years.

Despite persisting challenges, the European Medicines Agency will review the data with a view to possibly licensing the vaccine as there is currently no licensed protection against malaria. Should it scale through, the World Health Organization (WHO) could add its recommendations later this year.  “While the levels of protection the vaccine offers against clinical malaria may seem relatively low, they are better than any other potential vaccine we currently have. The findings are not only important in their own right but also in signposting a road to developing better vaccines in the future,” remarked Prof Mike Turner, Head of Infection at the Welcome Trust, a UK based biomedical research charity.

By Emmanuel Iruobe

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