Malaria Vaccine Cuts Risk of Infection By Half

By Douglas Main | October 19, 2011 12:19 pm

Blood smear of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite

Preliminary results from the largest ever field trial of a malaria vaccine show the vaccine cut infant’s risk of getting the disease by half. In development for more than 25 years by GlaxoSmithKline and others, the vaccine cut the risk of catching severe malaria by 47 percent amongst infants ages 5 months to 17 months in the year after receiving it. 6,000 kids enrolled in the study, whose early results were published yesterday in the The New England Journal of Medicine and announced at a Seattle conference organized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major funder of the study and other efforts to combat malaria. The vaccine represents the first against a parasite-borne infection and has been notoriously difficult to develop since the protozoan that causes the illness (mainly Plasmodium falciparum) changes shape as it moves from the blood to the liver and back again.

While 47 percent isn’t very effective—most vaccines aren’t approved until they reach 90 percent or better—even this level of protection could save millions of lives, Glaxo’s chief executive Andrew Witty tells the New York Times. Malaria kills an estimated 780,000 per year, despite being preventable and treatable, mostly claiming the lives of African children.

[Via The Guardian]

Image: CDC / Wikimedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Greg for President

    No offense, but why do we want to save 1 million lives a year? So we can get to 8 billion people on the planet faster?

  • Artanis

    No offense, Greg for President, but are you out of your mind?

  • Etienne

    Greg, not only is your comment callous, but also mistaken. The long-term effect of preventing infant mortality is often to reduce population over time. Bill Gates himself has said as much in one of his TED talks: one of the easiest ways to prevent overpopulation is to address infant mortality. This is because when children in the community die, people tend to overestimate the risk that they might lose one of their own and they compensate by having more children. Remember that in many third world countries having many children is the best way to guarantee you will be looked after when you become old and less able. The more uncertainty in the number of children that will make it to adulthood, the more children you need to ensure that a minimum survive. So government policies that look after people in their old age and provide a social safety net would also go a long way towards stabilizing population growth in those countries.

  • Stephen

    Absolutely Etienne,
    If you look at the population pyramid for a lot of countries in Africa, where there is still population growth of 3% or more in many countries, the population distribution by age is very pyramid shaped. If you look at countries like Germany with 0% or even negative growth, the population distribution is nearly column like. Once infant mortality is reduced, there will be an immediate boost to the population while people carry on with their current reproductive traits but soon after, those traits change with the times when competition for resources increases because of too great a population and less children will be created, resulting in very low population growth. You are smart and Greg is an imbicile.

  • Brian Too

    I’m not sure that people in the developing world make a choice as simple and plain as “we’re vulnerable when we get old, let’s have more kids”. I’d suggest that making babies is one of life’s most automatic things. If you don’t do anything special, lots of children appear.

    When you start providing the health programs that cut infant mortality, you typically start providing all sorts of other services as well. Clean drinking water, vaccination programs, education, jobs that distance the populace from subsistance farming, roads, cities and all the rest.

    I’d suggest that this bundle of development ultimately leads to a situation where people want fewer children, and hey look, there aren’t so many child mortalities when they think about it. The barriers to reducing family size start to go away. It accomplishes the goal of reducing fertility without making that a primary and explicit objective. That defuses all the socio-political landmines surrounding reproduction.

    Only China has managed to spell out a reduced fertility policy and make it (mostly) stick.

  • John Kwok

    @ Brian –

    The only reason why China has succeeded is that it has had a predominantly totalitarian dictatorship for years. Anyway, while I have virtually no knowledge of demographic studies in the developing world, I think there is credible evidence that substantial reductions in infant mortality will also result in slowing – maybe halting – a substanial increase in population size. I recall seeing a report recently on the PBS News Hour that even in impoverished Brazilian communities, the birth rate is starting to approach that of the United States, if not Western Europe. If my memory is right, one major reason for this has been a substantial reduction in infant mortality as well as substantially improved sex education.

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