Potential Malaria Vaccine Shows Promise in Early Trial

May 12th 2016
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor

Although no malaria vaccine is currently available, an experimental one has potential to protect patients against the deadly infection.

Although no malaria vaccine is currently available, an experimental one has potential to protect patients against the deadly infection.

The immunization, known as PfSPZ Vaccine, consists of a live yet weakened form ofPlasmodium falciparum—the parasite known to cause malaria in humans when transmitted through a mosquito bite.

Initial human trials of PfSPZ Vaccine demonstrated that it protected patients for at least 3 weeks after immunization; however, further research was needed to establish the drug’s long-term effectiveness in preventing malaria.

Recently, a phase 1 trial conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine tested the durability of PfSPZ Vaccine in 101 healthy adults aged 18 to 45 years who had no history of malaria. The vaccine was administered to 59 of the participants, while the other 42 patients remained unvaccinated.

After exposing all of the patients to bites from mosquitoes carrying the sameP. falciparumstrain from which the vaccine was derived and observing the participants over a 1-year period, the researchers found that PfSPZ Vaccine protected 55% of patients from malaria for up to a year. It also seemed to provide sterile protection to those patients, preventing them from getting infected by malaria and also transmitting it.

The study authors emphasized that long-term protection is important for patients who aren’t exposed to malaria until months after they’re vaccinated, as well as for mass vaccination campaigns designed to slow the spread of disease.

“These results are really important, [as] malaria has such a devastating effect on children, especially in Africa,” said study author Kirsten E. Lyke, MD, in a press release. “This vaccine has the potential to help travelers, military personnel and children in malaria-endemic areas.”

The study results were published inNature Medicine.

While further research is needed before a malaria vaccine can reach the market, there are other steps retail clinicians can take to protect their patients from other infectious diseases, such asmeaslesand hepatitis A, when they travel abroad.

For instance, retail clinicians can refer any patients planning to go overseas to a travel clinic to ensure that they’re properly prepared. Depending on the area where the patient is traveling, this preparation could include the 2 measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines currently recommended by the CDC, as well as the hepatitis A vaccine and malaria prophylaxis.

In aprevious studyexamining a 2015 hepatitis A outbreak in Tulum, Mexico, researchers found that none of the infected patients had been appropriately immunized against the disease. The study’s lead author, Monique Foster, MD, MPH, explained that low vaccination rates often result from patients’ unawareness of the risks of disease.

“Studies have shown that the primary reason travelers fail to get vaccinations prior to travel, particularly when it comes to hepatitis A, is that they simply did not know the vaccination was needed,” Dr. Foster previously toldContemporary Clinic.

Retail clinicians can also provide patients with tips on how to avoid disease during travel. For example, those traveling to areas where hepatitis A is common should avoid consuming non-bottled water, uncooked fruit and vegetables, and undercooked meats, as travelers are most often exposed to the virus through contaminated food and water.

Additionally, retail clinicians can refer patients to resources that they can use to educate themselves on disease risk and prevention strategies, such as the CDC Health Information for International Travel Book (commonly referred to as the “Yellow Book”), as well as the CDC’s traveler’s health website.

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