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Malaria kills around 400,000 people every year. Two thirds of those who die are children under the age of five. Developing a malaria vaccine could therefore save many lives and reduce much suffering.
Unfortunately, it has proven to be very difficult to develop an effective vaccine, but now an international research team has made a breakthrough according to a press release.
They have developed a vaccine that in the first trials gives children 77% protection against becoming infected with malaria. The result is better than the target for a vaccine which was set by WHO at 75% protection, in the year of 2030. That means the vaccine outperformed what WHO believed was possible this decade.
The vaccine is also relatively easy to mass produce and distribute. Serum Institute, one of the world's largest vaccine manufacturers, expects to be able to deliver 200 million doses each year as soon as it is approved in the countries that need the vaccine. That is enough doses to vaccinate the children at risk.
"Malaria is one of the leading causes of death for children in Africa. We have provided support to a variety of vaccine candidates in Burkina Faso and these new data show that we may well have access to a very useful malaria vaccine within the next few years. It would be an extremely important tool to control the malaria infection and save many lives", said Charlemagne Ouédraogo, Minister of Health of Burkina Faso in a press release.
The scientist are planning further studies to make sure the vaccine is safe, and to check if it is possible to make it even more effective.
" This is an extremely promising result for a safe, inexpensive vaccine with a high degree of protection and which can be mass-produced, which means that it can reach the large number of children who are most at risk of contracting malaria and suffering its devastating effects. Even though we want to see more studies, this is a significant and exciting step towards solving a global health problem," says Lynsey Bilsland at the charity Wellcome Trust.
Malaria hits poor countries around the equator the hardest, but eliminating malaria would also protect the rest of the world, the researchers say.
"A world without malaria is both better for the children who would otherwise die of the disease and safer for us in the rest of the world. Countries that do not need to invest resources in managing malaria are better equipped to deal with new diseases that will inevitably emerge in the future," says Gareth Jenkins, Director of Advocacy at Malaria No More UK.
Read the full study here. Image: Pixabay / Oberholster Venita