Health officials are ahead of schedule as they expect to start trials of an Ebola vaccine in December in West Africa, a month earlier than planned. The World Health Organization announced it could know by April if the vaccine is effective and ready for mass distribution.
Those at high-risk in Liberia, including health care workers and burial teams, will likely be the first vaccinated, followed by those in Sierra Leone. WHO data shows there have been nearly 10,000 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola. Almost all of those have been in Libera, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It’s suspected Ebola has caused 4,877 deaths.
If the vaccine is proven safe and effective, manufacturers have committed to having hundreds of thousands of doses available by mid-2015 and millions by the end of the year.
Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director general for the WHO, said two possible Ebola vaccines are ready for clinical trial outside of Africa and five more candidates are being considered. At a news conference, Dr. Kieny warned a vaccine is not the magic bullet but could be a good part of the effort to turn the tide on the epidemic.
In the United States and other countries outside the outbreak region, two experimental vaccines are being tested on healthy volunteers. The National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline are developing one of those vaccines, while the Canadian government and NewLink Genetics are developing the other. These safety trials ensure there are no major side effects, allow scientists to work out the correct dose and determine if there are antibodies generated in the blood to fight the virus.
Dr. Kieny said research teams are accelerating a process that usually takes years into a matter of weeks and ensuring safety is the top priority, with production speed and capacity a close second and third.
According to some health experts, an effective vaccine could provide the greatest hope of controlling the Ebola outbreak. They say conventional public health measures, including isolation of patients and tracking their contacts, haven’t been working. However, new treatment centers are popping up to handle more patients.