It has been a trending topic since it reared its ugly head in March 2014 in West Africa. The world was almost put at a standstill as we all held our breaths to wait and see how it would pan out in the end. Now, a little more than a year later, the human race can start counting its victories.
According to the World Health Organization, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever is a severe and often fatal illness. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. The first EVD outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests. However, the most recent outbreak in West Africa has involved major urban as well as rural areas.
It has been an upward struggle and a world effort to contain and eventually eradicate the disease. Through valiant efforts though, countries like Sierra Leone can add their names to the list that have been able to get rid of the virus.
However, even more exciting is news of a possible vaccine. What scientists hail as ‘100% effective Ebola vaccine’ was first given as a trial to 7,651 volunteers in Guinea beginning March 2015. These are the contacts of people who have been infected with the virus.
This technique of identifying an infected person, their contacts, and their contacts’ contacts is called “ring vaccination”. It is said to be based on the strategy used to eradicate smallpox.
An editorial in The Lancet -a UK medical journal- accompanying the research says the ring vaccination process isn’t easy, as it can be hard to identify the network of contacts of a particular person, particularly when family and friends can be in dispersed communities across the country. Rather than comparing the vaccine with an inactive placebo, roughly half of the contacts in the trial (4,123) were given the vaccine immediately; the remainder (3,528) after a three-week delay.
The ring vaccination trial stopped recruiting in July 2015. Another trial is being conducted in parallel with the trial of ring vaccination, involving vaccinating frontline workers caring for sick people. The early results, published in The Lancet and publicised by the World Health Organization (WHO), showed the vaccine had 100% effectiveness when given immediately. Nobody developed Ebola symptoms up to 10 days after being given the vaccine immediately after exposure. However, 16 cases in the delayed vaccination group developed symptoms (0.5%). Further analysis of the results is ongoing.
The vaccine is not currently licensed for use. The data on its effectiveness and safety will need to be reported and scrutinised before it is known whether it could be licensed and widely adopted. However, The Lancet reports background preparation may already be under way for its introduction and if the evidence proves sufficient for licensing, a Global Ebola Vaccine Implementation Team, also under WHO’s leadership, has been preparing the ground for its introduction – creating guidelines for the vaccine’s use, strategies for community engagement, and mechanisms to expand country capacity for the vaccine’s distribution and delivery.
The news of the successful Ebola vaccine trials has received widespread welcome from scientists and is especially good news for countries still plagued by this menace such as Liberia.