Norway-led team prove Ebola vaccine works

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A unicef Ebola facility in Liberia. Photo: WHO/Christopher Bailey
13:44 CEST+02:00
A Norwegian-led research team has developed what is likely to be the first effective vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus, that has killed more than 11,000 people in the still ongoing outbreak in West Africa.

The team's study, published in the Lancet, is based on data from the vaccination of 4,000 people in Guinea.

The Guinean ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders  and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health all collaborated on the research, which showed that a single vaccination could give complete protection against the disease.

"This will be invaluable for the affected countries and the world," Foreign Minister  Børge Brende told Norway's VG newspaper.

"I am glad that Norway has played an active role in this."

According to John-Arne Røttingen from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, who guided the research, the result was considerably better than expected. 

"So far it seems that the vaccine offers full protection, which means that everyone who is vaccinated is protected against Ebola after seven days," he said.

"Still, this is still early and relatively small numbers, and that is why we will keep working until we get more robust figures, but we hadn't dreamed of such a strong effect."

He said the researchers had decided to vaccinate everyone in their control group immediately, rather than delay administering it by three weeks, as originally intended, believing that delaying them access to such an effective treatment would be unethical.

The vaccine was originally developed by the Canadian Institute of Public Health, which has licensed it to the US pharmaceutical firm Merck.

Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever that kills between 25 percent and 90 percent of those who contract the illness.

Symptoms include high fevers, head aches, severe abdominal pain and in some cases severe bleeding from eyes, nose and rectum.

The current outbreak of Ebola is by far the largest since the virus was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo near the Ebola river in 1976.

Ebola has no cure, although supportive care such as supplying intravenous fluid can dramatically improve survival rates.

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Since December 2013, more than 27,000 people have tested positive for the virus and 11,000 have died. The rate of infection has reduced significantly, mainly due to community initiatives to stop the spread of the disease.

A vaccine and mass vaccinations in the area could end the outbreak altogether and end the threat that the virus would spread to new areas, causing new devastating outbreaks. 

"If proven effective, this is going to be a game changer, and it will change the management of the current Ebola outbreak and future outbreaks," the director of the World Health Organisation Margaret Chan said at a news conference according to Reuters."

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