Just under a year ago, the entire world was gripped with fear over the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has to date claimed more than 11,000 lives. But as the largest Ebola outbreak in history started to dwindle and stabilize, there's a strong chance that an event of this scale will never be repeated. The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a promising new Ebola vaccine that has been 100 percent effective in preventing the spread of the disease after a four-month trial. The new treatment has been called a game-changer in protecting people against Ebola, but when will it be available to the masses, and where?
The trial for the single-dose VSV-ZEBOV vaccine began on March 23 in Guinea, where researchers employed a strategy that created a "protective ring" around the infected. When a new patient was diagnosed, the vaccine would be given to his or her family, friends, and other close contacts to curb further spreading. Researchers vaccinated one group immediately and another group after three weeks. The vaccine showed 100-percent effectiveness in the group who was vaccinated immediately, while 16 cases of Ebola arose from the group that was vaccinated later.
Bertrand Draguez, medical director of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), told BBC News, "With such high efficacy, all affected countries should immediately start and multiply ring vaccinations to break chains of transmission and vaccinate all frontline workers to protect them."
Indeed, the new vaccine has shown remarkably promising results that could spell the end of the current outbreak and prevent future outbreaks, so when will it be ready for mass production? According to Dr. Margaret Chan, the general-director of WHO, it will take weeks, and possibly even months, before new supplies can be produced, and that's likely just for the continuation of the trial. The trial is expected to continue with the next step being vaccinating patients between 13 and 17, and possibly even younger.
Last October, WHO announced that millions of doses of experimental vaccines would be produced by the end of 2015, although it had no plans to mass produce them before the middle of the year. At the time, Dr. Marie Paule Kieny, a WHO assistant director-general, told BBC News, "While we hope that the massive response, which has been put in place will have an impact on the epidemic, it is still prudent to prepare to have as much vaccine available as possible if they are proven effective."
As for where it will be available, the vaccine will be provided to patients and health care workers in Ebola-stricken countries with no current plans to distribute elsewhere. For now, the people of West Africa and the health care workers on the frontline can heave a major sigh of relief that such a breakthrough is under way.
As Professor John Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who helped design the trial, told BBC News, "The trial is still continuing, these are interim results which need confirming, but there's now light at the end of the tunnel."
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