Rudolph Valentino’s Father Would Have Rejoiced About News of a Truly Effective Vaccine Against Malaria (April 23, 2021)

Today I woke up and turned on the BBC for the latest news and was stunned by the news that an effective vaccine against malaria appears to have been developed.

As mentioned in an earlier post which discussed Valentino’s family history, Giovanni Antonio Giuseppe Fidele Guglielmi “began studying and doing lab research on malaria which was prevalent in the area, and after researching the deaths of horses and cattle, he found how the disease could be transmitted to the animals by mosquitoes just as it was transmitted to humans.” More details are found int the PhD dissertation by Jeanine Therese Villalobos, the great-grandniece of Valentino, entitled “Rudolph Valentino: The Early Years, 1895-1920.”

From Pages 59-60 of the thesis:

Civic minded, he turned his investigative eye to malaria, for decades an unchecked scourge on the South, a disease that even claimed the life Vittorio Emanuelle II, Italy’s first king. Giovanni made enough progress to see fit to publish his finding on bovine malaria and its relationship to human malaria, a study later cited by Ettiene Nocard of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. But Giovanni’s endeavor would prove to be a fatal one. “He contracted malaria during the research,” Alberto* would recall, “And I too contracted the disease.” Apparently, Gabrielle** fell prey as well, and struggled with it throughout her life. Alberto recovered, but Giovanni was not so lucky. From 1902 onward his health slowly declined.

Source: Villalobos, Jeanine Therese. “Rudolph Valentino: The Early Years, 1895-1920.” Diss. U of California, Irvine, 2009.

(Editor’s note: *Alberto, Rudolph’s older brother; **Garbrielle, Rudolph’s mother)

The quest for a malaria vaccine has been pursued for the last 100 years. The current vaccine, Mosquirix is effective only in preventing 39% of infections, and only 29% of severe infections in children in Africa. According to The Guardian, the new vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, offers “the real possibility of slashing the death toll of a disease that kills 400,000, mostly small children every year.”

From the BBC report, which reveals that the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine research was built on what had been discovered while researching malaria:

Malaria vaccine hailed as potential breakthrough

By Philippa Roxby
Health reporter

Study author Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute and professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said he believed the vaccine was the first to reach the World Health Organization’s goal of at least 75% efficacy.

The most effective malaria vaccine to date had only shown 55% efficacy in trials on African children.

The trials of this malaria vaccine started in 2019, long before coronavirus appeared – and the Oxford team developed its Covid vaccine (with AstraZeneca) on the strength of its research into malaria, Prof Hill said.

A malaria vaccine has taken much longer to come to fruition because there are thousands of genes in malaria compared to around a dozen in coronavirus, and a very high immune response is needed to fight off the disease.

“That’s a real technical challenge,” Prof Hill said. “The vast majority of vaccines haven’t worked because it’s very difficult.”

However, he said the trial results meant the vaccine was “very deployable” and “has the potential to have a major public health impact”.

The Guardian quotes Adrian Hill further:

Hill said the institute might apply for emergency approval for the malaria vaccine just as it did for the Covid jab. “I’m making the argument as forcefully as I can, that because malaria kills a lot more people than Covid in Africa, you should think about emergency-use authorisation for a malaria vaccine for use in Africa. And that’s never been done before.”

The institute would probably ask the regulatory bodies in Europe or the UK for a scientific opinion on the vaccine and then apply to the World Health Organization for approval for use in Africa. “They did Covid in months – why shouldn’t they do malaria in a similar length of time as the health problem is an even greater scale in Africa?” Hill said.

One has to wonder what Giovanni Guglielmi would be thinking if he were alive today…


Facts about malaria from the CDC:

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. People with malaria often experience fever, chills, and flu-like illness. Left untreated, they may develop severe complications and die. In 2019 an estimated 229 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 409,000 people died, mostly children in the African Region. About 2,000 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States each year. 

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