Will we be able to eradicate malaria?

Thanks to the newest vaccine against malaria, do we move one step closer to curing it and all diseases?
11 November 2021



Now that there’s now a malaria vaccine being rolled out, can we could wipe out malaria like we did smallpox?


Our presenter Sally Le Page poses this question to Infectious Disease Researcher John Tregoning in order to get his take on the likelihood of putting a stop to Malaria.

John - Yes. Optimistically, I think we can. And not just with the vaccines. I think there'll be a number of different ways, but if you go back 400 years, malaria was much more widespread. Shakespeare had the 'ague', which we probably think was malaria and it was associated with swampy grounds. As the places like East Anglia were drained properly, the mosquitoes that carry the malaria disappeared, so through a program of getting rid of that family of mosquitoes that carries malaria, and some vaccines, and some drugs that stop transmission, and better bed nets, you could get to a place where we are malaria free. Remarkably in the last year, China became malaria free and there are relatively few countries that now have malaria. So yes, I think we can achieve that and not necessarily through vaccines.

Sally - That's amazing. Such good news. What about everyone's favourite infectious disease, the common cold? Are we ever going to wipe that out?

John - No. Because it isn't one thing. Common cold is a whole collection of viruses, bacteria, fungi; anything that can get into your nose and inflame it and cause you to make snot and mucus is a common cold. There are as many things under the Sun that can cause those, as you can imagine.

Sally - Where does coronavirus fit on that scale between smallpox and flu that in terms of viruses stable enough that we could wipe them out?

John - There's lots of different coronaviruses. The one that's just caused the pandemic is SARS‐CoV‐2. It's the second very severe recorded coronavirus in the last 15 years. But there are other ones that are kind of common cold coronaviruses that if you went around and swabbed people, you'd find these kinds of endemic coronaviruses. In theory they are more stable than influenza. So when flu makes copies of itself, we describe it as leaky. Basically when it makes copies of its own genetic material, it's like when you make a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. Each time you add it, you put in more and more errors.

Flu changes quite quickly over time, while coronaviruses have something called a proofreading ability, which is like somebody checking the photocopies and putting the original one back on and making clean copies each time. So in theory, coronaviruses don't change as quickly as flu viruses. We have seen them changing in the last 18 months, but that's probably because everyone has had it, meaning it has had much more opportunities to change; the more rolls of the dice, the more changes you'll get.


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