Malaria vaccine found not to be as potent as expected

A new study has shown that the new malaria vaccine may not be as promising as scientists thought. The vaccine turns out to be only 30% effective. A previous study done the year before suggested the vaccine could cut malaria risks by half which is still below what was expected. That previous study was done on much older children. The vaccine that is done by 3 shot regimen was expected to boost the immune system of children between the ages of 6 to 12 weeks.

The vaccine protection level has been considered as unacceptably low by Dr. Jennifer Cohn. She is medical coordinator at Doctors Without Borders.

There are 5 different species of parasites that are known to cause malaria. For decades, scientists have tried to come up with a vaccine that could immunize against those parasites in vain. Vaccines just don’t work well with parasites. There about a dozen other malaria vaccines in trial worldwide.

Since there are no effective vaccines yet, the only way is to rely on insecticide-treated bed nets. Good medicines like Artesunate Amodiaquine are also used to cure those already infected by the parasite. Unfortunately, malaria still claims 650, 000 lives every year. The most affected are young children and pregnant women in Africa.

The study was done on 6,500 African children. It showed that by giving the babies 3 doses of that vaccine, the occurrence of malaria in them reduced by 30% in comparison to those that didn’t get the vaccine. Severe cases were reduced by 26%.

The vaccine seems to be working differently in different regions. Scientists say they will have to look at the data closely to understand why that was the case. They speculated that babies born in areas with high incidence of malaria may be born with antibodies that prevents the proper functioning of the vaccine.

These results were released online by the New England of Journal Medicine after been presented at a conference in South Africa. This research which is been paid by GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative is expected to continue until 2014.

Adrian Hill of Oxford University is not so optimistic about this vaccine. He is involved in the production of a competing vaccine. He pointed out the study showed that the Glaxo Vaccine lost it effectiveness after several months. Hill mentioned that other vaccines like those for meningitis and pneumococcal disease were much cheaper and effective. It would be difficult for the Glaxo Vaccine to compete with them.

Eleonor Riley still believes that the vaccine can be useful if combined with other strategies like bed nets. She works at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and was involved in an earlier study of the vaccine. She was hoping for better results and admitted to be frustrated to find out how difficult it can be to come up with a malaria vaccine.

Glaxo, the company behind the vaccine, has invested $300 million in this research starting from 1987. The World Health Organization said it would wait to see the final trials before it draws any conclusions about this vaccine.