Potentially huge progress has been made in terms of developing an Ebola vaccine:
When Ebola flared up in a village, researchers vaccinated all the contacts of the sick person who were willing – the family, friends and neighbours – and their immediate contacts. Children, adolescents and pregnant women were excluded because of an absence of safety data for them. In practice about 50% of people in these clusters were vaccinated.
To test how well the vaccine protected people, the cluster outbreaks were randomly assigned either to receive the vaccine immediately or three weeks after Ebola was confirmed. Among the 2,014 people vaccinated immediately, there were no cases of Ebola from 10 days after vaccination – allowing time for immunity to develop – according to the results published online in the Lancet medical journal (pdf). In the clusters with delayed vaccination, there were 16 cases out of 2,380.
The vaccine is now being offered to all the contacts of any infected individuals in Guinea and Gabon. It’s unlikely that everyone who receives the vaccine will avoid contracting the disease, because nothing in life is 100%, but researchers estimate it will wind up having at least 75% efficacy, and that means both lot of lives saved and a real chance to finally put an end to the West African outbreak. I don’t know nearly enough about this sort of thing to say whether this vaccine will work against other strains of Ebola.
The West African Ebola outbreak has declined both in severity and public attention (I’m guilty of that too, I know), but it hasn’t gone away. Liberia was declared Ebola-free for a couple of months earlier this year, but has seen a few new cases in recent weeks. At the same time, the number of new cases in Sierra Leone and Guinea seems to have declined rapidly over the past couple of weeks. This new vaccine, a couple of others that are being tested, may be the final step in ending the outbreak, though (ah, the irony) the development of those other vaccines is now being impeded by the fact that there are too few new cases for proper testing.
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