Ebola Vaccine Approved By The FDA - Studies Show 100% Prevention
The release of the vaccine has been dubbed as a milestone for public health.
In December 2019, the FDA announced the release of the world’s first-ever vaccine for the prevention of Ebola virus disease (EVD), or what we commonly referred to as Ebola or Ebola hemorrhagic fever.
Produced by Merck for adults over the age of 18, the live vaccine is called rVSV-ZEBOV, or Ervebo as a trading name, and is effective against the Zaire ebolavirus species of ebolavirus only. The World Health Organization (WHO) supported the EVD vaccine in October of 2019, and now the FDA has followed suit, in what is being called a “critical milestone” for public health.
The Threat of Ebola and Can it Be Cured?
As the CDC explains, EVD is a rare disease that occurs both in humans and primates, and the viruses that cause it have been located primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. In those regions, people can get sick from EVD either from infected humans or animals, like bats and primates, or contact with an infected person who has passed away.
In what feels like just a few short years ago, in 2014, the world was panicking about Ebola--and for good reason. The disease, at some outbreak points, has had a high as 90% fatality rate, can be spread easily through direct transmission and even through contaminated blankets, and causes death in a manner befitting of a horror movie with an incubation period as little as two days.
The most deadly outbreak of 2014 in West Africa affected 28,610 people, with 11,308 deaths resulting, and other countries being affected in smaller numbers, but it brought a national spotlight to the disease.
The History of the Ebola Vaccine and What Causes It?
The roots for a vaccine against EVD can be traced back to the 1990s, when John, “Jack” Rose, a Yale University scientist developed a way to use a VSV, a livestock virus, as a vaccine delivery system. VSV became a backbone for experimental vaccine research for its unique ability to promote a high immune response, but for many years, laboratories lacked the necessary set-up to test its use on deadly viruses like Ebola.
As Ebola became more of a household name instead of just another overlooked disease in a third-world country, the push for a vaccine also became more of a reality. A Canadian scientist had actually spearheaded the development of an effective Ebola vaccine for years, based on that initial VSV research, before the 2014 outbreak, without any luck in having a drug company develop it. Even the World Health Organization turned him down when he tried going to them directly. The demand for the widespread development of the vaccine just wasn’t there.
And then, of course, as we all know, that changed pretty quickly as it became apparent that Ebola has the ability to jump continents and threaten everyone.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the early experimental vaccine against EVD was introduced in 2015 in Guinea, and it did prove to be effective. 5,837 people received the vaccine and none of them developed Ebola, as compared to the 23 cases of people who developed the disease who were not vaccinated. From there, it was deployed for use in the more recent 2018-2019 outbreak in the Dominican Republic of Congo, and although those numbers are still being collected, early data also shows it’s effective.
Thanks to a combination of long-dedicated scientists, including immunologist Judie Alimonti--a Canadian “unsung hero” who worked tirelessly and completely alone for years on the tedious base work of the vaccine development even when no one cared that much about it--before passing away in 2017, and a lab that was finally willing to take a chance on the vaccine right before the 2014 outbreak happened, the scene was set for mainstream development of the vaccine.
Why an Ebola Vaccine is Necessary
“Ebola virus disease is a rare but severe and often deadly disease that knows no borders. Vaccination is essential to help prevent outbreaks and to stop the Ebola virus from spreading when outbreaks do occur,” Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the FDA’s announcement of the vaccine. “The FDA’s approval of Ervebo is a major advance in helping to protect against the Zaire ebolavirus as well as advancing U.S. government preparedness efforts. The research approach used to study the effectiveness and safety of this vaccine was precedent-setting during a public health emergency and may help create a model for future studies under similar circumstances.”
The FDA also adds that while the Ebola virus is still extremely rare in the U.S., and have only occurred as a result of traveling, healthcare workers working outside of the country can still be at risk for acquiring the disease after taking care of patients with EVD.
Although the FDA’s official press release about the vaccine does not specify who the vaccine will be available to, we can assume that healthcare workers specifically caring for Ebola patients will have prioritized access to the vaccine.