Sanaria, Inc. and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative announced this morning that their potential vaccine for malaria ready to start human trials as early as this May.
The vaccine works like that of yellow fever or smallpox -- injecting a small quantity of diseased parasite into the patient's bloodstream, such that the body can develop antibodies ready to strike back if and when a real infection occurs. Sanaria have focused their vaccine efforts on Plasmodium falciparum, the most fatal and also most resilient species of the parasite.
There are a number of candidate vaccines at the moment -- most of which have an efficacy rate of around 50 percent. That's enough to bring down mortality rates if even at-risk patients are given the vaccines. But as public health experts will no doubt point out, the hard part is getting that kind of comprehensive coverage. The rural health systems that are most burdened by malaria will find it difficult to support the kind of coordination that a vaccine scheme would require.
Still, a vaccine would do wonders. Falcipurum in particular has built up confounding resistance to conventional treatments in recent years. Certainly, it will continue to do so as long as we have to keep treating -- rather than preventing -- infection.
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