WHO to Begin Testing Ebola Vaccine 03/05 06:35
LONDON (AP) -- The World Health Organization will start large-scale testing
of an experimental Ebola vaccine in Guinea on Saturday to see how effective it
might be in preventing future outbreaks of the deadly virus.
The West African nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have been
hardest hit in the yearlong Ebola outbreak, which has left more than 9,800
people dead. In a statement Thursday, the U.N. health agency said the vaccine
study will focus on Basse Guinee, the region that has Guinea's most Ebola cases.
The health agency's vaccination strategy in Guinea aims to create a buffer
zone around an Ebola case to prevent its further spread --- an approach used to
eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. Officials will vaccinate people who have
already been exposed to Ebola cases and are at risk of developing the disease.
The vaccine being tested --- VSV-EBOV --- was developed by Canada and is now
licensed to Merck. A second vaccine --- one developed by U.S. National
Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline --- will be tested in a separate study
as supplies become available. The Guinea trial is being conducted with other
health partners including Doctors Without Borders, Epicentre, the Norwegian
Institute of Public Health and the Guinean government.
"If a vaccine is found effective, it will be the first preventive tool
against Ebola in history," WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said in a statement.
Bertrand Draguez, medical director of Doctors Without Borders, applauded the
move, which he called long overdue.
"For more than a year, we have been racing around the clock to stop the
epidemic from spreading further," he noted.
On Wednesday, WHO reported 132 new Ebola cases last week, an increase from
the 99 cases reported the previous week. The agency said the spread of Ebola
remains "widespread" in Sierra Leone and noted that cases have jumped both
there and in Guinea.
WHO said only about half of new Ebola patients in Guinea are connected to
known cases, meaning that health officials are unable to track where the
disease is spreading in the other half of cases. WHO also said unsafe
traditional burials --- a high-risk factor for Ebola transmission --- continue
to occur in both Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Officials also said the number of Ebola deaths taking place outside of
hospitals still remains high in Guinea and Sierra Leone, "suggesting that the
need for early isolation and treatment is not yet understood, accepted or acted
WHO had previously set a goal of isolating all Ebola cases and ensuring all
burials were safe by January 1. Authorities in Liberia planned to discharge the
country's last Ebola patient on Thursday. It will take 42 days of no new cases
for Liberia to be declared Ebola-free by WHO standards.