Viewpoint: Ebola Vaccine: The Need to Act Now

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

One year ago West Africa was descending into chaos. As the Ebola death toll approached 1,000 for the first time ever and Liberia closed its borders, the World Health Organization declared the situation an international health emergency. Experimental drugs were cautiously put to use to try to treat those infected, but what was urgently needed to stop the spread was a vaccine. Now, 12 months on, it looks very much like we have one.

Interim results published Friday in the medical journal the Lancet provide clear evidence that the rVSV-ZEBOV candidate vaccine currently undergoing phase 3 trials – the final phase before vaccines can be licensed – is not only safe in the short-term, but also highly effective at protecting people from the Ebola virus circulating in Guinea.

What’s more, the results imply that the vaccine also helps reduce cases of Ebola in the broader community, beyond those vaccinated, suggesting that we may now have an extremely effective way of ending the ongoing outbreak.

That must now be the priority. While more research may be needed to establish the long-term protection and safety, use of this vaccine needs to be immediately extended beyond the trials in Guinea and made available to ring vaccinate people in Sierra Leone and wherever else outbreaks occur. Similarly health care workers in affected regions should be offered access to this vaccine now, as they are often the first exposed to any new cases.

More than 11,000 people have lost their lives to this disease, with nearly 28,000 infected since the beginning of the epidemic. And even though it appears to have peaked, with the number of new cases dropping to just a couple of dozen a week and just six cases in Liberia since May, the risk of resurgence remains present. People are still losing their lives and health care workers are still being infected – two in Guinea in the last week alone. We must vanquish this outbreak; zero cases is the only acceptable outcome. While the infection is still present, it is hard to practice medicine and live a normal life when any minor illness can be seen as an early stage of an Ebola infection. We should not underestimate the ease with which this could come back; we should be anticipating that possibility and be ready to act should we need to.

Source: The New York Times (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
infectious diseases, vaccines