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Using a different experimental approach aimed not only to test a new vaccine but also to stem an Ebola outbreak, scientists have found the new vaccine is 100% successful in providing exposed individuals protection from the virus.
Rather than create a complicated time-consuming trial with a control group getting a placebo — which also allows the epidemic to rage undisturbed — they focused on a different approach:
The Guinea trial — called ‘Ebola, ça suffit’ in French (‘Ebola, that’s enough’) — tested a ring vaccination design, a strategy that was borrowed from successful smallpox eradication efforts in the 1970s. After one patient contracts the disease, their close contacts are vaccinated in the hope of stemming the onward spread of the virus.
The Guinea trial included two arms: one in which adults who had been in contact with someone infected with Ebola and their subsequent contacts were vaccinated shortly after the original patient developed Ebola, and a second in which contacts instead received the vaccine three weeks later. The trial tested a vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV, which is composed of an attenuated livestock virus engineered to produce an Ebola protein. The vaccine was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and then licensed to the drug companies NewLink Genetics and Merck.
Of the 2,014 people who received the vaccine immediately as part of the first arm, none developed Ebola ten days after getting the vaccine. The 10-day window allows the vaccine to summon an immune response and accounts for any pre-existing Ebola infection. (A few people in the immediate vaccination group, however, did develop the disease between 1 and 10 days after vaccination.) That compares with 16 infections among the 2,380 people in the second arm.
The findings mean that the vaccine provided 100% protection from the virus.
The results bring hope that Ebola is now a defeated virus.