A potential Ebola vaccine that could help protect medical workers as they fight disease in West Africa, even just after contamination, may take at least a month to be available as global officials weigh its safety.
The sudden donation of as many as 1,000 doses of a vaccine that hasn’t been tested in humans is creating a conundrum because they could go to healthy people, rather than those already infected. A World Health Organization ethics panel this week decided that people in West Africa should be allowed access to promising experimental treatments or vaccines.
“I would personally not hesitate to take that vaccine,” said Thomas Geisbert, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch and a developer of the Ebola vaccine donated to WHO by the Canadian government. “I’ve seen it used in many, many non-human primates. Never saw a problem with it.”
The WHO will review data on the vaccine’s design and results from animal studies to assess its safety, said Marie-Paule Kieny, the assistant director-general for health systems and innovation. It would then discuss which countries would get the doses, and in what quantities, she said.
All of that may take at least a month, Kieny said. “We cannot just take any vial of anything and start distributing it,” she said in an e-mail.
Health officials are weighing the risk of using unproven products as the disease has killed more than 1,000 people and teams of researchers rush to get their vaccines into clinical trials. The outbreak, the worst since the virus was first identified in 1976, has raged through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and recently reached Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Modupeh Cole, a prominent Sierra Leone doctor treating Ebola patients, died after being infected, the government reported yesterday.
Renewed focus on vaccines was sparked by the donation of 800 to 1,000 vials to the WHO by the Canadian government. The vaccine, called VSV-EBOV, was developed by Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory and is licensed by Ames, Iowa-based NewLink Genetics Corp.