Last year, the Ebola virus killed over 11,000 people – an outbreak that was not reported until three months after it began. The virus remains in the body after the patient has recovered and can sicken and infect others months after recovery. A few cases of Ebola have been reported recently in Liberia and there will most likely be more, but now there is better awareness and new tools to contain the virus including an effective vaccine.
By moving at record speed, vaccines went from development to saving lives in six months. The vaccine was tested rapidly without clinical trials. The vaccine had already been tested on animals, found to be safe and effective. Money and scientific knowledge are needed to develop vaccines, something poor countries don’t have, and this Ebola vaccine was developed in North America partly to protect against bioterrorists.
By the time a new vaccine was ready, most new cases of Ebola had stopped. This is great news for the world, but bad news for testing a vaccine. Cooling facilities, run off batteries and solar power, due to unreliable electricity, had to be built to keep the vaccines around -112 F (-80 C). Researchers vaccinated those who had contact with a sick person and their contacts. This ring of vaccination, a method used to eradicate smallpox, tested Merck’s vaccine. 16 people in the control group contracted Ebola, where the vaccinated group had 100% protection. The others in the trial were immediately vaccinated.
Temporary, yet uncomfortable, side effects of the Merck vaccine are fever and arthritis pain. It is now being offered to new patients in Liberia. This short one-dose vaccine is good for emergencies, but Janssen’s 2-dose vaccine could be longer lasting since it includes a booster shot and would be good at protecting health care and burial workers.
The Ebola virus lives in wild animals, so it likely will never be eradicated. Now researchers are attempting to identify future threats. Future vaccines aim to complete animal tests before manufacture and stockpiling in large quantities for emergency use. Thousands of doses must be prepared before approval, a bad financial risk. It costs tens of millions of dollars to make a small stockpile, a hundred million for a licensed product.
Rosenburg, Tina. “Amid Failure and Chaos, an Ebola Vaccine.” Opinion Pages. The New York Times, 24 Nov 2015. Web. 29 Nov 2015.