For decades, various research teams have repeatedly failed to accomplish this task: To develop a vaccine against malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that occurs annually about 400 kills people, 280 000 thereof children younger than five years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has now recommended the first malaria vaccine for a global vaccination campaign.
Although the agent, called RTS, S, only an effectiveness of 30 to 40 percent, it is for WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who once started his career as Malaria researchers began a “historic day”. Tens of thousands of lives could be saved with the vaccination.
Since 2019 the vaccine has been developed by by the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, tested in a large-scale pilot study in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya. 800 000 Children received the drug, the first of four doses at five to six months of age and then at four-week intervals.
Does the vaccine induce carelessness?
Experts had feared that some parents in rural areas would shy away from long journeys to get their children to get the last, but necessary booster, as only the first three are administered together with other regular vaccinations. There was also concern that parents might overestimate the effectiveness of the vaccination and neglect protective measures such as mosquito nets.
But the A study has shown that RTS, S can not only be distributed safely but also under difficult conditions and is well accepted and in demand – “a glimmer of hope for the continent,” says Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. Initial fears that RTS, S could possibly increase the number of meningitis or even the death rate among vaccinated girls, were not confirmed.
As in the previous studies, it was shown that RTS, S increased the risk to become infected with malaria by 30 percent and reduce the risk of being hospitalized with acute, potentially fatal Malaria to be treated to 30 percent.
The The active ingredient is a protein from the shell of the versatile parasite
It is obvious that this effectiveness could be improved, but the RTS, S vaccine shows for the first time that a malaria vaccine is at all is possible. Quite a few researchers who deal with the extremely variable malaria pathogen Plasmodium falciparum were skeptical as to whether the vaccine, which consists of a protein, CSP, from the shell of the parasitic unicellular organism, would be able to produce a sufficiently long-lasting immune protection.
In fact, the protective effect is initially quite high, but then decreases later. Presumably because the parasite can actively suppress or bypass the human immune system. Research to improve the protective effect of CSP is already ongoing. It remains to be seen whether they will lead to more protection for hundreds of thousands of children.