Hope For Wiping Out Killer Disease as WHO Tests Ebola Vaccine
Just the mention of the word Ebola is enough to send chills down the spines of many folks. The killer disease endemic in Central Africa is viewed as a death sentence and is responsible for large-scale losses of life. That could all now be a thing of the past if a new Ebola vaccine piloted by World Health Organization proves effective.
The vaccine was first administered on May 21 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) in what is its first real-time test. Currently, there is an Ebola outbreak in the D.R.C. and the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) sent a team of medics to contain the outbreak. This team of medics received the vaccine in hopes of guarding them against the virus as they work to contain the outbreak. The severity of the situation grew after a nurse contracted and died from the Ebola.
The outbreak, first reported in April, has caused the deaths of 26 people and there are fears that the disease may spread to the neighboring countries of Congo and the Central Africa Republic.
Ebola is endemic in the D.R.C. and the current outbreak is the ninth since 1976. As such, the country has gotten better at working to quickly contain any outbreak. The current outbreak is different though, as it has spread to a major port city – Mbandaka city, which has a population of about one million people. The large population of Mbandaka makes it difficult to track the spread of the virus, because of this the W.H.O. moved in swiftly and brought the new vaccine despite the unproven effectiveness of the vaccine.
The Ebola vaccine, code-named rVSV-ZEBOV, is an attenuated vaccine, meaning it is injected live but weakened, developed by the pharmaceutical company Merck. It contains a virus called vesicular stomatitis – a virus that mainly affects cattle and horses but which has been re-engineered to contain a deadly strain of the Ebola virus first discovered in the D.R.C.. It is this strain which was also responsible for the West African Ebola outbreak which left more than 11,000 people dead and lasted for almost two years.
The vaccine is still in its trial stages and was sent to the D.R.C. for “compassionate use” only as it has not been licensed yet. It was first used in Guinea in a trial involving more than 5,000 people towards the end of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The researchers then published reports saying it was found to be highly effective in protecting against the Ebola virus. Already immunized Guinean health workers will be used in fighting the current outbreak in the D.R.C.
More than 7,500 doses of the Ebola vaccine were flown into the D.R.C. and now await administration using what W.H.O. calls the “ring method”, a method which vaccinates groups of people who came into contact with each known Ebola case. The vaccination process faces challenges as the vaccine must be kept at a temperature between -60 to -80 degrees Celsius. Special vaccine boxes have been issued by W.H.O. but they can only work for up to six days.
The W.H.O. has pledged $56 million to combat the current epidemic and is taking the situation extremely seriously. As the New York Times reported, since May 8, the W.H.O. has sent “156 technical experts to the region. A mobile laboratory has been set up to expedite case confirmations in Bikoro; another is planned for Mbandaka. A cellular tower has been erected in Mbandaka to help workers trace people who may have been infected throughout the region.”
While the 2014 Ebola outbreak was a tragedy, it may have taught the W.H.O. and the D.R.C. how to handle the current outbreak and now, hopefully, a new vaccine will prove effective.