News / Health

'Pretty Good' Malaria Vaccine Moves Forward

FILE - A young girl with malaria rests in the inpatient ward of the Malualkon Primary Health Care Center in Malualkon, in the South Sudanese state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
FILE - A young girl with malaria rests in the inpatient ward of the Malualkon Primary Health Care Center in Malualkon, in the South Sudanese state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal.

A “pretty good” malaria vaccine is on track to be the first to market.

It only prevents infection about one-quarter to one-half the time, so it’s not as good as most vaccines. But for a disease like malaria, which kills 600,000 people a year, “pretty good” may be good enough.

GlaxoSmithKline has applied for regulatory approval for its RTS,S vaccine.

Partial protection

A new 18-month study in the journal PLoS Medicine shows the vaccine prevented 46 percent of malaria illnesses in children five to 17 months old and 34 percent of severe cases, the kind most likely to kill.

“It’s a pretty good vaccine,” said medical epidemiologist Mary Hamel of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one of the authors of the new study. “We were looking for 30 percent or higher.”

Most vaccines against childhood illnesses are 80-90 percent effective or better. But, she said, “the burden of malaria is so high across sub-Saharan Africa that even with modest efficacy numbers like these, you can get a pretty high impact.”

Multiple illnesses per year

For example, Hamel says children contracted malaria an average of five times per year each at the western Kenyan study site where she worked. At that location, for every 1,000 children who got the shots, the vaccine prevented about 2,400 cases of malaria, and 40 severe cases.

The study found the vaccine was less effective in infants six to 12 weeks old. It prevented 27 percent of illnesses but had no impact on severe cases.

And the vaccine lost much of its punch “more rapidly than one would hope” over the course of the 18-month study, Hamel said. One of the next steps is to see if a booster shot can improve long-term efficacy.

No 'silver bullet'

Still, many experts say it is an important step forward. “We don’t really have a silver bullet,” said Dr. Chris Plowe at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“This is a first-generation vaccine,” he added. “We’d all like to see a vaccine that has 100 percent protective efficacy, but in the context of other tools and how we expect to do with a really tough disease like malaria, this is actually pretty good and reason for some celebration, I would say.”

“There’s not a single licensed, efficacious vaccine for any human parasitic infection on the planet,” noted Dr. Jonathan Kurtis at Brown University.

But he said there will be questions about whether a vaccine that prevents relatively few deaths will be worth the cost.

“Who is going to pay to deliver this vaccine, which is not a cheap vaccine to manufacture?” he asked. “Will they pay to stop 20 cases per 1000 participants per year and a half? I can’t answer that.”

Tulane University vaccine expert Nirbhay Kumar worries the vaccine will raise hopes beyond what it can deliver.

“While we expect there will be some benefit from deploying this vaccine, I think having high expectations and not fulfilling those expectations might do more damage than the benefit that we could see,” he said.

GlaxoSmithKline has not disclosed what the price of the vaccine will be, but it says it will cover the cost of manufacturing plus 5 percent, which will be re-invested in vaccine research.

The company has submitted the vaccine to European regulators for approval, which could come by the end of next year.

'A good start'

The goal set by the health nonprofit organization PATH and other major international donors calls for a vaccine that is 50 percent effective against severe disease and death in the first 12 months. The GlaxoSmithKline vaccine met that goal for older children but not infants in an earlier study.

There is “still a lot to learn before we decide exactly how it’s going to be introduced,” according to PATH vice president for product development David Kaslow. And, he added, those decisions will ultimately be up to the affected countries themselves.

PATH is also supporting other research efforts, but none is as close to approval as this one.

“For the foreseeable future, this is what we have,” Kaslow said. “Is it perfect? No. But is it a good start? Yes.”

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs