The recent publication of new malaria vaccine trial results by the Sanaria group in the USA raises hope for discovery of a new preventive tool to stop the transmission of one of the most serious infectious diseases in the world. As an organisation working with African communities to improve their health, AMREF is keen on any issues related to the prevention of malaria. Since 1983, AMREF has prioritised malaria control and has been involved in the development and implementation of several approaches to prevent and control malaria, particularly for disadvantaged communities. AMREF is therefore heartened by any progress made towards finding a malaria vaccine and greatly appreciates the results of the trial.
The Sanaria (TM) PfSPZ vaccine, while boosting interest in malaria vaccine research, is bound to create a great deal of excitement. However, AMREF urges caution over raising too much hope over the outcomes of the trial. Firstly, the announcement is not new; this is just the latest in a series of malaria vaccine trials that have been conducted over the last five decades. Secondly, despite the impressive results, the sample size was very low and only six of the nine who received high doses of the vaccine were fully protected. And thirdly, the investigators are at the initial stages of the vaccine development and it will probably take at least 10 years for the new vaccine to be released for general public use. Currently the RTS,S/AS vaccine is the most promising of the vaccine candidates. It is the product of a close 20-year partnership between GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. The malaria community is hopeful that RTS,S/AS will provide efficacy and safety data to meet the criteria set for licensure requirements by 2015.
With the excitement generated by this new study, there is a risk of misinterpretation of results and a danger that people and governments will become less cautious in the belief that discovery of a vaccine is imminent, causing them to reduce investment in malaria prevention and treatment. This may jeopardise the gains made through years of hard work. In addition, even if discovery of an effective vaccine is scientifically confirmed and it is made available for public use, its administration will need to be implemented in combination with the existing package of effective malaria interventions. It is therefore important that we increase and intensify all efforts to control and eliminate malaria even as we accelerate the search for an effective vaccine.