New malaria vaccine announced

The world’s first malaria vaccine could be approved by 2015, which means it could be used for the first time in 2016. This is a significant breakthrough; malaria is one of the world’s most serious diseases, infecting more than 200 million people every year and killing at least 660,000 people, most of them children.

The new vaccine is called RTS,S and has been developed by the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. The vaccine was tested on 15,000 children in 11 sites in Africa. Half were toddlers aged 5 to 17 months and the other half were babies aged 6 to 12 weeks. One year after vaccination, there were 56 per cent fewer cases of clinical malaria in the older group and 31 per cent fewer cases in the younger group. However the vaccine’s effectiveness decreased over time: after 18 months there were 46 per cent fewer cases in the older age group, and 27 per cent fewer cases in the younger group. The vaccine also offers lower protection to babies, who are more vulnerable to malaria.

In spite of these results, the sheer number of children affected by malaria means that the vaccine will help to prevent a very large number of malaria cases. Individual children can get as many as four malaria infections each year. The trial is now investigating whether a booster dose given 18 months after initial vaccination helps to protect children for a further period.

UPDATE: September 2018. RTS,S has been licensed and the World Health Organization has agreed an implementation plan. For more information about this, click here .