Why Malaria Vaccination Is Difficult To Develop

Antimalarials treat Malaria by killing the parasite that causes the disease.  There is no vaccination for malaria because the parasite responsible for the disease adapts and becomes immune to vaccinations.  Two decades of research helps scientists to understand why creating a vaccine is difficult but not how to produce one.

Vaccines work by training the body’s immune system to cope with infections. Malaria isn’t a bacterial or viral infection which makes developing a vaccine complicated.  A malaria vaccine requires an acute understanding of the life cycle of the parasite and choosing the correct antigens. Presently this is proving to be an extremely complicated task.

Presently the only treatment for malaria is antimalarials which work by killing off the Plasmodium parasite while it is in the body.  It is therefore very important to be vigilant and use preventative methods so bites don’t occur. Sleeping under mosquito nets, closing windows, applying insect repellent, burning citronella candles and wearing clothes that cover your whole body help to prevent mosquito bites.  

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What Is Malaria?

Malaria is a tropical disease affecting 50% of the people in the world.  There has been a reduction in cases since 2010 due to research and preventative methods but deaths from the disease are still remarkably high.  The female mosquito bites their victim passing on the Plasmodium parasite which causes the disease. Malaria is a complex condition because it is not a virus or a bacterial infection and is extremely difficult to find a reliable cure.

The condition is extremely serious and at its worst, it causes brain damage, coma and even death.  Sometimes it remains dormant in the system and symptoms don’t manifest themselves months and years after being bitten.  Symptoms include; shaking, chills, high fever, sweating, nausea, headache, stomach pains, anaemia, seizures and coma. It is therefore very important to take antimalarials if you plan to travel to high-risk countries.

Antimalarials  like Malarone work by killing the parasite directly in your body.  There are a number of different types of antimalarial with varying degrees of side effects.  The most expensive treatments cause the least side effects. In the past, people were reluctant to take treatments because they affect moods and cause psychosis (mainly Lariam).  New treatments are much better and not taking them puts your health at great risk.

The disease affects people in the poorest areas of the world where there is little access to treatment causing high mortality rates.  Preventing bites is as important as taking medication to ensure you don’t catch the disease. If you are planning on travelling to exotic countries it is important you are aware of the malaria risk.

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How Do Vaccines Work?

The very first vaccine was to prevent Smallpox which was a deadly disease in the 18th century.  A scientist called Jenner found that he could inoculate against smallpox by infecting people with the cowpox vaccine.  This was extremely successful and the condition was completely eradicated saving thousands of lives.

In simple terms, a vaccine works by training the immune system to produce antibodies against diseases so they can fight it.  Viral and bacterial infections are the most common conditions we vaccinate against. 

Some people are against vaccinations because they worry about negative side effects.  Vaccines rarely cause serious harm and the benefits outweigh any side effects people experience.  People who don’t vaccinate their children put lives at risk and the main reason their children don’t catch the diseases is because vaccinated children prevent the spread of disease.

Malaria is particularly difficult to vaccinate against because it is not a viral or bacterial infection. Developing a successful vaccine depends on understanding the life cycle of the Plasmodium parasite and extracting the correct antigens.  Decades of research has still not provided a definitive answer which prevents the development of a vaccine.
If you have holiday plans please check to see if your destination is a high-risk country and arrange antimalarial treatment with your doctor.  To review and purchase treatment for malaria please click here.

By Parv Sagoo (July 2018)