The most recent outbreak of Ebola killed more than 11,300 in West Africa – nearly half of those who were diagnosed with the illness.
While the gruesome epidemic has subsided, researchers announced earlier in December an unsettling finding – that people can get infected and not know it. Writing in the journal PLPOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, researchers stated that “a significant portion of Ebola transmission events may have gone undetected during the outbreak. Further studies are needed to understand the potential risk of transmission and clinical sequelae in individuals with previously undetected EBOV infection.”
But just weeks after that finding, other researchers have presented an exciting new development: that a “very effective” prototype vaccine has been established.
During a trial of 6,000 people in Guinea last year, none of those who had the test vaccine contracted the disease within 10 days, compared to 23 cases from a similar-sized group which did not receive the vaccine.
“If we compare zero to 23, this strongly suggests that the vaccine is very effective, that it could be up to 100 percent effective,” Marie-Paule Kieny, World Health Organization’s assistant director-general and lead author of the study, told AFP news agency.
The new vaccine was initially developed in Canada by public health authorities before being taken over by pharma giant Merck.
“While these compelling results come too late for those who lost their lives during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, they show that when the next Ebola outbreak hits, we will not be defenseless,” said Kieny.
Nearly a dozen groups, from the University of Florida to WHO, worked on this vaccine, presenting it in an extraordinary two years.
“It looks like one of the most effective vaccines out there – almost 100%,” Michaeleen Doucleff told National Public Radio. “As long as there are enough doses of this vaccine available and they can get to the people who need them, this vaccine is going to stop a small outbreak and keep it from getting out of control and growing.”
There are about 300,000 doses of the vaccine currently available. News of the effectiveness of the vaccine – for now, it’s called rVSV-ZEBOV – was first announced in The Lancet.
A spokesman from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, noted that the vaccine was effective both before exposure and after someone has been exposed to Ebola: “This is a good way to protect people who are coming into contact with Ebola-infected individuals.”
There are still big questions surrounding the new vaccine, Al Jazeera reported. For instance, it’s not known how long the vaccine’s protection lasts. Also, the recent trials excluded children under 6, pregnant woman, and people with AIDS.
Other agencies are working in additional Ebola vaccines: Glaxosmithkline and Johnson & Johnson each have experimental products in the pipeline, and groups in China and Russia are developing vaccines – the Russian one just the finished the second-phase of a three-step clinical trial.
What’s up next? Fauci said researchers were apply similar tactics to confront Zika.
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