Malaria causes much physical and economic hardship in tropical regions, particularly in communities where medical care is rudimentary. Should a vaccine be developed, it is the residents of these areas that stand to benefit the most. But the vaccine, which has been promised to be 'just round the corner' for many years, remains elusive. It is important to ask why this is so, when effective vaccines exist for many other infectious diseases. What are the reasons for the slow rate of progress, and what has been learned from the first clinical trials of candidate malaria vaccines? What are the remaining challenges, and what strategies can be pursued to address them?