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What are the Pros and Cons of Malaria Immunization?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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As of 2010, no malaria immunization was available, despite the efforts of researchers interested in developing an effective preventative vaccine for this disease. When an immunization does become available, the pros and cons of vaccination will be similar to those for other vaccines, as it is necessary to weigh the risks and benefits carefully before proceeding. Malaria prophylaxis to prevent or reduce the risks of infection is available and is generally strongly recommended.

Development of a malaria immunization has focused on creating a vaccine for children in areas with endemic malaria, as they are most vulnerable to infection and are also most likely to experience long term complications like cognitive impairments if they are infected with the parasite. Researchers in 2010 developed a modified yellow fever vaccine with potential promise in protecting against malaria, but the vaccine was considered highly experimental and wouldn't be ready for public use in the near future.

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People considering malaria immunization with an available vaccine should consider the risks of complications like infections at the vaccination site, allergic reactions to components of the vaccine, and very rare adverse reactions to the vaccine itself. These are all potential risks of any vaccination. The benefit of being able to resist malaria is generally deemed worth the risks, except in some rare cases. People considering the pros and cons of vaccination who have underlying diseases that might expose them to more risks by taking the vaccine may want to refrain and rely on herd immunity conferred by vaccinating the majority of the population.

When malaria immunization does become available, doctors can provide patients with information about the risks and benefits to help them make an informed decision about whether to move forward with the vaccination. It will be introduced gradually, starting with clinical trials in a limited population to see if it is safe and effective, and expanding over time to the general population.

Malaria prophylaxis to prevent infection requires people to start taking medications before they travel to an area with endemic malaria and to keep taking them throughout the stay and for around a month after they return. These medications can be expensive and side effects include emotional disturbance, difficulty sleeping, and headache. People who experience severe side effects may need to explore the possibility of taking a different medication. Precautions like wearing insect repellent and sleeping under netting are also recommended to limit the chance of getting a bite from a mosquito carrying malaria parasites. Until a malaria immunization becomes available, these best practices will reduce the risk of contracting this parasitic infection.

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