Ebola vaccine – reason to be hopeful?

Jennifer Lazuta (IRIN)

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 August 2015

ebola burial teams

News that an Ebola vaccine trialed in Guinea has proved 100 percent effective has elicited both excitement and caution from a range of actors closely involved in the outbreak, which also struck Liberia and Sierra Leone and has claimed more than 11,000 lives since March 2014.

Some 1,200 frontline workers and 4,000 others who came in contact with the virus were vaccinated between 23 March and 26 July in Guinea, as part of a trial run by the World Health Organization (WHO), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the governments of Canada, Norway and Guinea.

Research published late last week in The Lancet, found that the vaccine – known as rSVS-EBOV, protected 100 percent of participants who were treated immediately after exposure.

But experts warn that more data and research is needed to determine how much of a game-changer the vaccine is.

It is unclear how soon the vaccine protects those inoculated against Ebola, how long the protection lasts, what side-effects the vaccine may have, especially on high-risk groups such as pregnant women and children.

IRIN asked some key Ebola-response players about their reaction to the news.

Dr. Unni Krishnan, Plan International’s Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response said:

“The early results offer a ray of hope. However, this development shouldn’t take the attention away from building strong public health systems, which is a key antidote for all health emergencies.”

ebola must go2Martha Paulson, Ebola widow and mother-of-three from Monrovia, Liberia:

“This is the best news I have heard since 2014. I am really afraid of that disease. I lost my husband to Ebola…. I wish he was still alive before the discovery of the Ebola vaccine. But thank God…. We just want to tell the researchers that we are grateful. Liberia is [waiting] for it.”

Dr. Bertrand Draguez, Medical Director for MSF commented that: “These results are promising and we should definitely make this vaccine available to at-risk groups as soon as possible. But it is also of crucial importance to keep working on all the pillars of an Ebola response including contact tracing, health promotion and isolation of infected patients.”

Margaret Harris, WHO spokesperson said: “It’s very good news, but… at this stage, it’s a vaccine only used for high-risk groups…. It’s very important to understand it’s a tool for prevention, but it’s not something that can cure Ebola and it’s important to understand that all the other things used to prevent Ebola must continue.”

Guinea’s national regulatory authority and ethics review committee says it plans to continue the trial based on these preliminary results, but it is still unclear what should happen next.

“To say exactly when and where [the vaccine will be used next] would be jumping the gun, because you need to look at who would benefit, who would provide it, cost and so on,” Harris said. “Those are not decisions that can be made overnight. All the pieces of the puzzle are now being brought together, but to put a timeline on it would be misleading.”

Many people simple expressed excitement at the breakthrough. Joy Coleman, a Liberian nurse commented: “I just heard the news and I am here shouting in my office. We are so happy as a nation to hear this good news. A lot of people died in this country.

“I even lost six of my colleagues who were nurses…. Although it’s coming late, it’s better late than never…. We hope they can immediately send it to Liberia so all our citizens can be vaccinated against Ebola virus disease.”

Health workers say even with an effective Ebola vaccine, people must still take preventative measures, such as washing hands.

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