Will Ebola Vaccine Be The Cure Africa Needs?

The much feared ebola virus may soon be conquered. A new ebola vaccine test in Guinea has been very effective in clinical trials. Researchers tested the vaccine on 4,000 people who had been in recent contact with an ebola patient. The results were good; 100 percent of those vaccinated were protected 10 days later.

While the West Africa ebola epidemic has slowed greatly, it has not yet been halted. Liberia was declared ebola-free in May, but on July 30 a body tested positive for the virus. It has been suggested that the virus had not truly gone away yet; while ebola survives no more than 21 days in most body fluids, it can survive for several months in other ones. Guinea and Sierra Leon have both not been declared ebola-free since the outbreak began. Nigeria was declared ebola-free in October 2014 and Mali was declared ebola-free in January 2015.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever was first identified as a clinical entity in 1976. It is transmitted through bodily fluids. The fatality rate for those infected varies from 25 percent to 90 percent. As of now, only supportive treatment exists, which is what makes the vaccine such a big deal.

Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea all have few structured health care services, which contributes to the spread of the virus. All three countries rely heavily on tourism for their economy and the clinical trial, led by the WHO, UN, and Guinea Health Ministry, involved a “ring” vaccination approach similar to the one used in smallpox vaccination. The vaccine was able to be kept at the storage point of minus 80 degrees by a specially designed storage device. The WHO specifically praised the Guinean citizens that arranged the vaccine study and those who volunteered for it. The trial began in March and was ended on July 26, with plans for it to continue. The vaccine does not contain the ebola virus itself and works through a copy of the ebola coat protein.

While the results are encouraging, it’s only one test so far. More studies are still needed to see if the vaccine allows herd immunity to ebola virus. Further studies are already planned in Guinea. The new studies will include children from 6 to 17 as well as the frontline workers that have been volunteering their time to stop the outbreak. Since this outbreak has already killed more than 11,000 people, anything that promises to stamp it out is welcome news. And if a vaccine proves effective, ebola can go the way of smallpox, diphtheria, measles, and other once-feared diseases stopped or controlled by vaccines.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]