A new vaccine could bring an end to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. A vaccine trial against the deadly virus has proven enormously effective, with initial findings showing 100 percent efficacy in individuals.
WHO (the World Health Organization) called the findings a “game-changer” in the fight against Ebola. The findings were published in British journal, The Lancet.
Dr Margaret Chan, Director of WHO, said recognition ought to go to all who were involved in the trial. “The credit goes to the Guinean government, the people living in the communities and our partners in this project. An effective vaccine will be another very important tool for both current and future Ebola outbreaks.”
Initially, the VSV-EBOV vaccine was produced by the Public Health Agency of Canada and then continued by pharmaceutical company Merck, which is based in New Jersey. The trial was sponsored by WHO.
Trials began this year in Guinea, using a unique method of vaccinating known as “ring” vaccinating. A single patient is vaccinated, and their family, friends and neighbours are also vaccinated to provide a protective “ring” around them.
The trial on over 4000 people alternated between two methods. One group involved vaccinating the patient’s ring of contacts at the same time as the patient, and the other group delayed vaccinating the patient’s contacts for three weeks. This method allowed researchers to compare the two groups and quickly assess the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Protecting aid workers was vital for fighting Ebola successfully. To address this, a parallel trial was conducted on frontline workers.
Bertrand Draguez, head of Doctors Without Borders, called the results of the overall trial a “unique breakthrough”.
“These people have worked tirelessly and put their lives at risk every day to take care of sick people. If the vaccine is effective, then we are already protecting them from the virus.”
Draguez hoped that with such an efficient vaccine, countries could immediately begin vaccinating workers. This would not only protect the workers but help break the train of transmission.
“Too many people have been dying from this extremely deadly disease, and it has been very frustrating for healthcare workers to feel so powerless against it.”
Previously, no drugs or vaccines were effective against the virus. The lack contributed to the largest outbreak of Ebola in history, which began in Guinea in December 2013.
While the results are still preliminary, the authors of the study believe that the effectiveness of the vaccine will increase to between 75 and 100 percent. More conclusive evidence is needed to prove that the vaccination has the capacity to create herd immunity in populations.
The Guinean national regulatory authority and ethics review committee have already approved the continuation of the trial.