Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Ebola vaccine by 2015 - WHO

Published:Wednesday | October 1, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting that a few promising vaccines against Ebola may be ready for use by early next year.

The deadly virus is now ravaging parts of West Africa, with recent data revealing that so far more than 6,574 people are infected with Ebola, and over 3,091 have died of the disease. However, WHO warns that these figures vastly underestimate the true scale of the epidemic, and noted that these figures are far greater than those from all previous Ebola outbreaks combined.

Last week, WHO said work on other potentially life-saving experimental therapies is also underway.

WHO has declared the recent Ebola outbreak the most severe public health emergency in the world today. But, there are no vaccines or medicines to prevent or cure this disease, which is killing about 50 per cent of the people it infects.

Experimental medicines

Given the emergency, WHO experts agreed it is ethical to use experimental medicines and vaccines to try to combat the deadly disease. Work is under way to assess the safety of several possible Ebola vaccines.

Drug company GlaxoSmithKline has begun clinical trials of its vaccine in the United States and Britain, to be followed by a trial starting in Mali next week, while NewLink vaccine trials are about to start in the United States and Germany.

WHO Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny said results from these safety tests will be known by the end of the year and, if all goes well, two candidate vaccines may start to be used in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in early January - the African countries that are worst affected by the disease.

"This will not be a mass vaccination campaign. Let us be clear about that, because the quantity of vaccine, which will be available, does not make this possible," Kieny said.

Compassionate use

"But we will discuss next week with experts what will be the best target in terms of the first persons to be offered the vaccine. This would be under informed consent. Of course, none of the vaccines will be licensed. So, this is part of an emergency or compassionate use, as was described and discussed with experts."

The use of blood transfusion and infusion of human serum from Ebola survivors is recognised as a 'safe treatment', but donated blood must be screened for infections, including HIV and hepatitis, Kieny said.

She said not enough people have been treated with this therapy to know whether it is effective. However, Kieny said there is anecdotal evidence of people having survived because of this treatment.

"But, there is a lot of enthusiasm indeed because this is something which is available on site. This is something where the African population does not have to wait for anybody else to develop it for them. So this is why there is a lot of enthusiasm," she said.