A new experimental Ebola vaccine provides full protection against the lethal disease, according to test results published in a recent copy of the medical journal The Lancet.
The vaccine, known as rVSV-EBOV, was first developed over a decade ago by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the United States Army. It is now licensed to the private company Merck. It is made of a vesicular stomatitis virus — a disease that sickens cattle but does not typically infect humans — spliced with the gene coding of an Ebola virus surface protein that causes the immune system to create antibodies.
Though the injection has not yet been approved by officials, it is considered so effective that 300,000 doses have already been created for future use.
Researchers have made many attempts to create an Ebola vaccine since the disease first appeared in Zaire in 1976. However, as the virus is not common, most trials could not get the funding they needed.
Things changed last year when Ebola exploded in West Africa and caused an outbreak that took 11,000 lives. Those deaths, mixed with the fact that the disease popped up in both Europe and the United States, gave officials enough reason to fund research for an effective vaccine.
“While these compelling results come too late for those who lost their lives during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, they show that when the next Ebola outbreak hits, we will not be defenseless,” said lead author Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, in a statement.
Nearly all past Ebola outbreaks were stopped by medical teams who flew into the affected area to isolate the sick and bury the dead. However, this did not work in 2014 because the disease hit many capital cities and spread too quickly to be contained. Researchers hope the new prevention method will stop such an event from happening again.
The new vaccine has some flaws. For instance, it only works against one of the two most common strains of the Ebola virus and there is a chance that it does not give long lasting protection. Joint pain and headaches have been reported as possible side effects.
“Ebola left a devastating legacy in our country. We are proud that we have been able to contribute to developing a vaccine that will prevent other nations from enduring what we endured” said study co-author Dr. KeÏta Sakoba, Coordinator of the Ebola Response and Director of the National Agency for Health Security in Guinea.
Officials are not sure how big a stockpile will be created with the vaccines, but Merck will now have to seek approval from the World Health Organization if they want to move forward. It next will need to get proper licensing from a body like the United States Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency.