Frequently asked questions about malaria vaccines
- What's the difference between drugs and vaccines?
- Why isn't there a malaria vaccine?
- How long to a vaccine?
- Will malaria develop resistance to vaccines?
- How will genome maps affect vaccine development?
- Can I purchase a vaccine from MVI?
Generally speaking, a vaccine is a product given to healthy people to prevent disease from occuring. It is designed to stimulate the body to develop immune responses that protect against disease. A drug, on the other hand, is a product designed to act on a disease or disease agent in the body. In the case of malaria, drugs have been used to prevent infection and disease.
Although a malaria vaccine is technically feasible, making a vaccine to protect people against a parasite has never been done. Another key reason is that the world has not committed enough human and financial resources to making a malaria vaccine. Increased resources, effectively applied, are needed to overcome technical and scientific barriers to malaria vaccine development. New resources have led to considerable progress in recent years. Additional resources even close to the level needed would further accelerate progress. Estimates on how much is needed vary, but, by way of example, pharmaceutical companies spend up to half a billion dollars or more to bring a single successful vaccine through licensure.
Developing a vaccine against malaria is a huge challenge. Many factors determine whether a vaccine will be safe, effective, and affordable for the people who need it most. If everything goes well with the candidate that is farthest along in the development process, the World Health Organization has indicated that a policy recommendation is possible as early as 2015, paving the way for countries to make a decision about possible implementation of a vaccine through their Expanded Programs on Immunization. This time frame is much sooner than would have been likely without the renewed global interest and support for malaria vaccines witnessed over the past few years.
It is theoretically possible for any microbe to develop resistance to vaccines. The global experience with vaccines licensed for childhood diseases indicates that this is not a huge problem. The malaria vaccines that are being developed are using various strategies to minimize the possibility of resistance.
Scientists mapping the malaria genome have identified several thousand potential targets for a malaria vaccine. It will take decades of research to assess these targets and turn promising ones into vaccines that can be evaluated. In the short term, genome maps will not have a great impact on malaria vaccine development.
Currently there is no licensed vaccine against malaria, but we are working toward that goal. MVI is specifically working to ensure the development and availability of malaria vaccines for children in developing countries where malaria is a major health problem.