WHO fears Ebola vaccine may not see light of day as epidemic nears end

VENTURES AFRICA – Last weekend, a significant milestone when Liberia was declared Ebola free, having gone 42 days without a new case of the virus. While this is definitely a positive development, there are concerns that further vaccine trials will fail to provide enough insight on the degree of protection offered against the virus.

This twist in the Ebola narrative was recently disclosed by the World Health Organization (WHO) after officially declaring Liberia free of the disease. The epidemic, which lasted for about a year killed more than 4,700 people in Liberia. Neighbouring countries Guinea and Sierra Leone reported 10 and 2 cases respectively last week, confirming a gradual tilt towards the zero case target.

Presently, two experimental Ebola vaccines are being tested on volunteers but may not yield sufficient data on efficacy as the number of cases continue to shrink. According to Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, these vaccines were developed by GlaxoSmithKline and jointly by Merck and NewLink Genetics. Two other drugs including the already known Zmapp will also be tested, going forward. “The best news is we are going to zero cases, there is absolutely no doubt about that. It is not clear whether it will be possible to have even a hint of efficacy from these two vaccines. To have efficacy we must see if people are actually protected, as the number of cases is going down it is not clear whether there will be a strong robust answer to this question at the end of epidemic.”

The health body continues to hold meetings with experts on developing a plan to expedite the production of vaccines and drugs that can be used during any future epidemic. A deal on research and development could potentially be reached by the end of the year.

By Emmanuel Iruobe