Significant advances in research around the Ebola virus mean that a vaccine to protect against the virus could be available by 2018. Offering 100% protection, this is an important development in the fight against the disease, from which 11,000 people have died since the most recent outbreak occurred in 2013.
About the Ebola virus
The Ebola virus (EVD – Ebola virus disease) is a highly contagious disease which is fatal to an average of 50% of sufferers. It is initially transmitted from animals to humans, and then can spread easily from human-to-human transmission. According to the World Health Organisation, fatality rates can fluctuate between 25% and 90%. Until now there have been no vaccines available to prevent the disease.
2013 saw the worst outbreak of Ebola in history, with a significant proportion of West Africa affected by the outbreak and a fatality rate of around 70%. In the UK, nurse Pauline Cafferkey contracted the virus whilst working in Sierra Leone in 2014, prompting further concern when the virus was found to be still present in her body months later.
About the Ebola vaccine
Following trials in Guinea, the vaccine was found to be 100% effective at preventing Ebola. The World Health Organisation and others are working to have the vaccine ready for regulatory approval. If approved, Merck, the manufacturer behind the vaccine, has 300,000 doses readily available in case of another Ebola outbreak.
The trials showed that almost all of the people who took part in the trial were free of the virus 10 days after being administered the vaccine. Of the nearly 6,000 people who took part in the trial, serious side effects were only present in one patient, whose symptoms were soon managed. No children took part in the trial, making it difficult to know how well the vaccine will work for them.
Work to get a vaccine for the virus has been long awaited. Whilst the virus has been around for nearly 40 years, it is only since the most recent outbreak that research around a vaccine has been accelerated. Whilst it can normally take up to 10 years to get a vaccine for a virus or disease, this development has only taken two, thanks to the work of the WHO, who have been working closely with the health ministry in Guinea as well as various international organisations.
Thousands of lives could be saved
Ebola can spread quickly, and effective quarantine procedures are needed to ensure the virus is contained. During the most recent outbreak, containment efforts have relied on foreign aid, but an effective vaccine could mean that thousands of lives are saved and large scale outbreaks like the one in West Africa could be avoided.
The current Ebola risk is minimal, making it less dangerous to travel to Africa, although a small chance of contracting ebola still exists. The biggest risk is to those who work and care for those who have been infected as well as their families. If you are planning on travelling to Africa and are concerned about the risk of Ebola, there are several resources on the NHS website that can help.