Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Vaccine for Ebola

Great news from Africa, where our cleverness with molecular biology has finally given us the advantage over an awful scourge:
A highly unusual clinical trial in Guinea has shown for the first time that an Ebola vaccine protects people from the deadly virus. The study, published online today by The Lancet, shows that the injection offered contacts of Ebola cases 100% protection starting 10 days after they received a single shot of the vaccine, which is produced by Merck. Scientists say the vaccine could help to finally bring an end to the epidemic in West Africa, now more than 18 months old. . . .

The vaccine, first developed by researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada, consists of the Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV), which causes disease in livestock but not people, with the Ebola surface protein stitched into it. 
Not only was the vaccine created in a hi-tech way, it was tested using advanced techniques in public health:
The decision to start the trial was taken in October, but it didn't get off the ground until March. By then, Ebola cases had already begun to plummet, and they were scattered across a large area in Guinea. To show efficacy in a standard randomized controlled trial, the researchers would have had to enroll far more people than was feasible.

Instead, they opted for a design called ring vaccination, in which only contacts of new Ebola patients, as well as the contacts' contacts, were vaccinated. The rings, or clusters, were randomized; in 48 of them, vaccination occurred as soon as possible after the detection of the Ebola case in their community. In the 42 other clusters, the vaccination teams came to give the shots three weeks later. The researchers then counted the number of new Ebola cases in each ring; because they weren't sure how long it takes for the vaccine's protection to kick in, they only included cases that occurred at least 10 days after vaccination in their primary analysis of the data. There were zero such cases among the 2014 people who were vaccinated right away, and 16 among the 2380 who got the shot 3 weeks later. That translates to 100% vaccine efficacy, at least in this study, the researchers write.
Still waiting to here the results of another vaccine that is also being tested this year, but rumor has it that we may soon have two effective vaccines to choose from.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

A good development in terms of pharmacology, but there's still a pretty severe cultural problem to overcome. A substantial number of Africans in ebola-stricken areas actually believe foreign doctors and aide workers aren't trying to cure the disease, but are in fact the cause of it. Even with an effective vaccine, it will be difficult to administer it properly to populations that actively distrust said vaccine as an evil foreign magic intended to kill them.