Safety, immunogenicity and efficacy of PfSPZ Vaccine against malaria in infants in western Kenya: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial

Nat Med. 2021 Sep;27(9):1636-1645. doi: 10.1038/s41591-021-01470-y. Epub 2021 Sep 13.


The radiation-attenuated Plasmodium falciparum sporozoite (PfSPZ) vaccine provides protection against P. falciparum infection in malaria-naïve adults. Preclinical studies show that T cell-mediated immunity is required for protection and is readily induced in humans after vaccination. However, previous malaria exposure can limit immune responses and vaccine efficacy (VE) in adults. We hypothesized that infants with less previous exposure to malaria would have improved immunity and protection. We conducted a multi-arm, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 336 infants aged 5-12 months to determine the safety, tolerability, immunogenicity and efficacy of the PfSPZ Vaccine in infants in a high-transmission malaria setting in western Kenya ( NCT02687373 ). Groups of 84 infants each received 4.5 × 105, 9.0 × 105 or 1.8 × 106 PfSPZ Vaccine or saline three times at 8-week intervals. The vaccine was well tolerated; 52 (20.6%) children in the vaccine groups and 20 (23.8%) in the placebo group experienced related solicited adverse events (AEs) within 28 d postvaccination and most were mild. There was 1 grade 3-related solicited AE in the vaccine group (0.4%) and 2 in the placebo group (2.4%). Seizures were more common in the highest-dose group (14.3%) compared to 6.0% of controls, with most being attributed to malaria. There was no significant protection against P. falciparum infection in any dose group at 6 months (VE in the 9.0 × 105 dose group = -6.5%, P = 0.598, the primary statistical end point of the study). VE against clinical malaria 3 months after the last dose in the highest-dose group was 45.8% (P = 0.027), an exploratory end point. There was a dose-dependent increase in antibody responses that correlated with VE at 6 months in the lowest- and highest-dose groups. T cell responses were undetectable across all dose groups. Detection of Vδ2+Vγ9+ T cells, which have been correlated with induction of PfSPZ Vaccine T cell immunity and protection in adults, were infrequent. These data suggest that PfSPZ Vaccine-induced T cell immunity is age-dependent and may be influenced by Vδ2+Vγ9+ T cell frequency. Since there was no significant VE at 6 months in these infants, these vaccine regimens will likely not be pursued further in this age group.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibody Formation / drug effects
  • Antibody Formation / immunology
  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Kenya / epidemiology
  • Malaria Vaccines / administration & dosage*
  • Malaria Vaccines / adverse effects
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / immunology
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Malaria, Falciparum / prevention & control
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity
  • Sporozoites / drug effects
  • Sporozoites / pathogenicity
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • Vaccination
  • Vaccines, Attenuated / administration & dosage*
  • Vaccines, Attenuated / adverse effects


  • Malaria Vaccines
  • Vaccines, Attenuated

Associated data