Will the Malaria Vaccine Save the Lives of African Children?

Colin Cable

By Dr Colin Cable, RPS Assistant Chief Scientist

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted to humans as a result of bites from infected mosquitos. Currently, the control of malaria centres on prophylactic measures mainly to prevent mosquito bites such as using mosquito repellent, covering the arms and legs and using mosquito nets while sleeping as well as taking antimalarial tablets. In the event of an infection by the malarial parasite, the antimalarial tablets should kill the parasitic although increasingly, just as with antibiotics and bacteria, the parasite is becoming resistant to many of the currently available antimalarials.

Despite all these possible precautions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that, each year, malaria kills over half a million people, with about 90% of deaths occurring in Africa, mainly in children, mostly under the age of 5 years. The reason for these large numbers of deaths is simple – the costs of the preventative measures are too high. So, for many years researchers have searched for a cheap and effective vaccine to protect the vulnerable against the malarial parasite.

Recently, after many years of research, in July this year a vaccine (the first against a parasite) received a positive assessment by the European Medicines Agency. This approval was in spite of the vaccine having only limited efficacy in children, and the need for 3 doses plus a booster dose – something which will prove a major challenge in Africa. However, in spite of these drawbacks, this vaccine has the potential to save the lives of many African children. WHO is currently considering how to best use the malaria vaccine in Africa to save as many children’s lives as possible. A decision is expected in October.

The RPS will be hosting a Science Café at the PharmSci 2015 conference where the motion to be debated is ‘This House believes that the World Health Organisation must make vaccination against malaria compulsory for all children in Africa’. Come and hear what Prof Yvonne Perrie, MPharmS, has to say in support of the motion and the arguments against from Prof Don Cairns, MRPharmS,. If you were living in Africa, how would you feel if your child was forced to have this new malaria vaccine? If you have views or opinions you would like to share on the use of the malaria vaccine, come along to what should be an informal but lively debate at 0815 on Tuesday 8 September at the PharmSci 2015 conference at the East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham.

If you wish to register for the PharmSci 2015 Conference, you can do so at: http://www.ukpharmsci.org/register/default.asp