Scientists have been trying hard to invent a vaccine for malaria in the past few decades and have had a huge breakthrough recently. Here is everything you need to know.
What Is Malaria?
Malaria is a parasite found in Apes. It was transmitted to humans through infected female Anopheles mosquito bites. Nearly half of the world is at risk of getting infected and it poses a greater risk than the COVID-19 pandemic if the infection were to spread.
“[Malaria] has been around forever, but nobody treats it like it’s an emergency,” says Patrick Duffy, Chief of the National Institute of Health’s Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology and one of the lead authors of the study.
The world has seen how scientists can invent powerful vaccines within a matter of months that are supposed to take decades to get ready with the proper amount of funding and attention. Thus, Duffy wants more resources to finalize the vaccine for malaria through the breakthrough they have had. He added that the problem was not the U.S. but poor countries that are unable to invest in their health.
Vaccine for Malaria
Malaria generally spreads in the tropical and subtropical regions during the summer season given the rise of tourism and mosquitoes affecting children and pregnant women. This fatal disease is said to have caused 94% of the deaths in Africa during 2019 according to WHO.
Here are three potential vaccine candidates for malaria said by Brandon Wilder, malaria researcher and Assistant Professor at Oregon Health and Science University’s Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, and was not involved in the new study.
- Mosquirix: This is similar to the Covid-19 Novavax vaccine. Certain lowly active parasite proteins are introduced into the human immune system to instigate a healthy immune reaction primarily in the liver. The immune system develops antibodies around the less effective protein of the parasite and is said to be 30-50% effective by Wilder.
- R21: Similar to the Novavax vaccine, the R21 vaccine has shown to create a higher level of antibodies than Mosquirix. It has also reached the highest threshold by preventing the disease for up to 75% for a full year unlike any other vaccine so far.
- Sanaria’s PfSPZ vaccine: A biotech company named Sanaria has developed a different vaccine from the rest. These can be further divided into three types of vaccines. Though all three subcategories are made from the infected mosquito’s salivary glands, they differ in terms of how the parasite is weakened.
- PfsPZ – the virus is irradiated.
- PfsPZ-GA1- A genetically weakened parasite is injected into a person.
- PfSPZ-CVac- is injected into a person who is taking malaria drugs.
Duffy and his colleagues are currently working on perfecting PfSPZ-CVac of Sanaria as it appears to be very effective in terminating the infection rather than lowering its risk like its counterparts.
56 participants were injected with PfSPZ-CVac after consuming tablets such as chloroquine (Kills blood-stage parasites) and pyrimethamine (Kills liver-stage parasites).
The trials found that the vaccine was 87.5% effective when the parasite doses were high in relation to the vaccine. Though these vaccines are not effective against all evolving strains of Malaria, they have shown to be highly efficient in fighting against common strains.
The recent breakthroughs in the vaccine have opened new avenues for research, yet there are a few differences such as diet, previous infections, upcoming infections in different regions concerning people who have participated in the vaccine trials, and the people who may receive the vaccine in the future.
Duffy said the vaccine could negatively impact the immune system if there were to be traces of these parasites before vaccination. He also added that due to the lack of funding and attention, it could take a decade or more to finalize a vaccine for malaria while 2 billion people will be infected and about 4 million kids would have died by then.