A Promising Ebola Vaccine

The West African Ebola outbreak is still going on as we sit here in our comfy chairs, sipping fancy coffee (I speak for myself of course).  Good news though, it’s starting to burn itself out.  Well, mostly.  Ebola is still going strong in Guinea, where recent cases of new infection have increased.  But in Sierra Leone new infections are on the decline, and there’s been no new infections in Liberia for several weeks.

The rapid decline in Ebola in Liberia is thanks, in no small measure, to the efforts of your taxpayer dollars, and the U.S. military, the world’s largest humanitarian organization.  We went there to build field hospitals and train healthcare workers to treat Ebola, but the biggest impact was simply logistics.  No other country or organization can move people and supplies around the world they way the U.S. military can.

Ebola Update From the World Health Organization (WHO)…

“A total of 150 new confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) were reported in the week to 15 March, compared with 116 the previous week. There were 95 new confirmed cases reported in Guinea: the highest weekly total for the country in 2015. Sierra Leone reported 55 new confirmed cases over the same period: the country’s lowest weekly total since late June 2014. Liberia reported no new confirmed cases for the third consecutive week. March 15 was day 12 since the final patient in Liberia had a second negative test for EVD (42 days must elapse before transmission can be considered to have ended).”

(click on the image for a larger version)

Looking at the graph, we can calculate the case fatality rate.  The case fatality rate is a measure of how many of the infected die from the disease, or how virulent and nasty the disease is.   In the case of the current Ebola outbreak, 41.2% of people who caught Ebola, ended up dying from it.  Of course this measure does not consider what happened to people after they got better.  There seems to be a “post-ebola” syndrome, where those that survive end up with vision problems, severe headaches, muscle aches, and other issues.

Check out the WHO’s excellent update on Ebola.

Ebola Vaccine

I read an interesting scientific paper recently about the development of an Ebola vaccine.  The paper was titled “A Monovalent Chimpanzee Adenovirus Ebola Vaccine — Preliminary Report”, by a giant team of PhDs and MDs at the University of Oxford in England.  You can get the article here for free.

These researchers developed a vaccine for ebola by putting part of the ebola virus into a Chimpanzee Adenovirus, then gave it to healthy volunteers.  This is not as scary as it seems.  Adenovirus is a very common virus that most of you have already had.  It results in anything from mild sniffles, to a bad cold.

Immune response to Ebola vaccine. More “ADI EBOV Glycoprotein” is better!

Adenoviruses make great vectors to introduce something into the body.  A vector is just a way to get something somewhere.  Think of it as a pickup truck carrying supplies to your house from the grocery store, but in this case it’s carrying something that will stimulate your immune system to respond.

More specifically, a tiny bit of the outside protein shell of the Ebola virus is attached to the adenovirus; your immune system sees that tiny bit, then ramps up production of antibodies to that protein, which then ideally will prevent the Ebola virus from infecting you in the future.  That’s one of the ways vaccines work to protect you from infection.

So the researchers took their vaccine and gave it to 60 volunteers.

The results were encouraging.  Nearly all that got the vaccine developed an immune response against the Ebola surface protein.  What this means is that the vaccine may have a good chance of preventing Ebola infection.

The vaccine had mild side effects that look almost like the post-Ebola syndrome: fever, muscle aches, headache, etc.  Most of the effects were mild, and went away in a few days.  But I’d still like to hear how the volunteers are doing now, months after their vaccination.

In any event, large-scale trials of the Ebola vaccine have started in West Africa.  So time will tell how effective the vaccine actually is in the population most affected.  The vaccine was tested in Europeans, so how it works in Africans may be a bit different; another reason that testing in Africa is of critical importance.

Last tidbit, the work by the British scientists was funded by the Welcome Trust; one of the two largest charitable trusts in the world, the other being the Gates Foundation here in the U.S.   The respected British newspaper, the Guardian, and 350.org have just launched a divestment campaign with a goal of getting these two giant trusts to divest their investments from fossil fuels.

The Gates Foundation has about $45 billion in assets, and the Welcome Trust has more than $29 billion.  Divestment of trust assets from fossil fuel investments would be HUGE in terms of dollars AND symbolism.  You can help by signing the petition to urge these trusts to divest.


Thanks for reading, please leave a comment or tweet me if you have a question.  I’ll do my best to dig up the answer for you.

Also, please stay tuned for an article on the health impacts of drought… coming up next week!



PS   For more Ebola articles click here.  For more on divestment click here.