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Is there a Malaria Vaccine?
Find out how you can protect yourself from malaria
Malaria is a disease that affects millions of people around the world every year; in 2016, it killed an estimated 445,000 people. In response to the devastating global impact of malaria, governments and health bodies around the world have pushed for the development of a successful vaccine.
Currently, antimalarials are the only preventative medicine available to combat the spread of malaria. However, a new malaria vaccine for children is set to be trialled in three African countries in 2018. This pilot scheme will assess the safety and efficacy of the vaccine over a period of years, and is expected to last until 2022.
In short, there is no malaria vaccine currently available – and there is no malaria vaccine currently planned for travellers to malaria zones. If you are travelling to a country where malaria is widespread and your risk of contracting the disease is high, you should protect yourself by practising bite avoidance and taking antimalarials.
To learn more about malaria, the new vaccine being trialled, and how to protect yourself from the disease, read on.
The Mosquirix malaria vaccine
The vaccine which will be trialled in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi from next year is called Mosquirix. It is an injectable vaccine designed to be administered to children who live in these countries and are aged between five and 17 months. Mosquirix requires four doses, each at least one month apart. In a previous trial, the vaccine prevented an estimated four out of 10 cases of malaria, and reduced the need for hospital admissions and blood transfusions.
The vaccine is important as it protects against the mostly deadly and widespread type of malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. However, it offers no protection against Plasmodium vivax, which is found in many countries outside of Africa. The vaccine is being rolled out in sub-Saharan African countries, as this is an area that is particularly affected by malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum.
When the second phase of this pilot programme comes to an end in 2022, a decision will be made about rolling out the vaccine to children living in other areas affected by malaria.
Because the malaria vaccine is still being trialled, and because it can only be administered to very young children, there is a still a need for alternative preventative measures to avoid the spread of malaria.
The World Health Organization has found that good malaria control in areas of the world where the disease is prevalent (e.g. sub-Saharan Africa) comes down to protecting the permanent population through:
- The use of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs)
- Indoor residual spraying with insecticides i.e. applying mosquito repellent/insecticides to walls and surfaces
- Preventative treatment for unborn children and infants
- Prompt diagnosis
- Treatment of malaria with effective antimalarial medicine
- Targeted malaria prophylaxis for pregnant women
- The use of preventative antimalarial medicines in certain high-risk areas
For travellers to areas of the world affected by malaria, the World Health Organization recommends the prevention of mosquito bites (particularly between dusk and dawn) as a top priority. You can avoid getting bitten by:
- Applying mosquito repellent that contains DEET, lemon eucalyptus, or icaridin to any exposed areas of skin
- Wearing long-sleeved tops and trousers to cover large areas of skin
- Booking accommodation with mosquito screens on the windows and doors
- Booking accommodation with air conditioning
- Sleeping under a long-lasting insecticidal net, particularly when in basic accommodation
- Using plug-in insecticides
In addition to bite avoidance, some travellers may also require antimalarial tablets.
Antimalarials for travellers
Not all travellers visiting a country affected by malaria will require antimalarials. The specific areas in which your risk of contracting the disease is high change fairly often, so it’s important to stay up to date on the latest developments. The easiest way to find out whether you need antimalarials is to speak to a travel health professional, however you can also use resources such as Travel Health Pro.
The important thing to bear in mind is that, even if you are taking antimalarials, you should still practise mosquito bite prevention. Antimalarials cannot provide 100% protection; therefore, the best way to avoid malaria is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. Bite avoidance will also protect you from other dangerous mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis (for which there is a vaccine).
In the UK, most antimalarials require a prescription, however it is possible to obtain two types over the counter from pharmacies:
- Maloff Protect
Maloff Protect provides good protection against Plasmodium falciparum (the type of malaria parasite for which the Mosquirix vaccine was developed), and is approved for use in many popular travel destinations around the world.
Chloroquine/Proguanil does not provide good protection against Plasmodium falciparum in most parts of the world, which means it isn’t usually recommended.
You should speak to a medical professional – ideally a doctor or nurse in a face-to-face, online, or telephone consultation – before you buy either of these antimalarials over the counter, to ensure that you can take them correctly and stay adequately protected. Otherwise, you should obtain your antimalarials with a prescription.