The recent announcement of a new malaria vaccine discovered by researchers in the United States has revived hopes of a cure for the illness, but the prestigious Spanish immunologist Pedro Alonso said, in an interview with Efe, that “we shouldn’t raise any false hopes” because “it’s still not a vaccine.”
The research, developed by scientists of the Maryland-based firm Sanaria and the United States’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has created optimism about the search for a medicine to eradicate the illness that kills some 2,000 people a day worldwide, mostly in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
“It’s good news that makes us very happy,” the Spanish scientist said from the Center of Health Research at Manhica in Mozambique, where he has spent over 10 years fighting malaria.
But according to Alonso, “it’s not a vaccine yet. It’s what we call a concept trial,” and it still needs 10 to 15 years of similar results to become a vaccine.
In the U.S. research, Science magazine said, the “experimental vaccine (known as PfSPZ) protected 12 of 15 volunteers from malaria infection, including all six receiving the most doses.”
But Alonso asks cautiously, “What effect can that have on an African child in a rural area who suffers more than 1,000 bites of malaria-carrying mosquitos every year?”
The new vaccine must also be administered intravenously in five doses for several months, and it is preserved in liquid nitrogen, something that would require a disproportionate infrastructure and enormous costs, he said.
“It’s unimaginable,” he told Efe, that it could work like that in Africa. What we need is a vaccine administered with intramuscular injections, of two doses instead of five and that can be transported in refrigerators like other vaccines, or ideally at the temperature of the environment, instead of in liquid nitrogen.”
Alonso added that “what will cure malaria won’t be what the Americans call ‘a magic bullet,’ but a combination of several bullets, among which vaccines can be an important element but not the only one.”