The Ebola Vaccine

Final Fantasy Dimensions. Square Enix.
Not too long ago, we wrote about the Ebola outbreak that was taking place in Western Africa. At the time, it was the largest outbreak to have ever taken place and panic spread through the United States as a few patients were being brought back for treatment. Fortunately, Ebola was well-contained within the U.S.

Of course, people in Africa faced the greater threat as 11,000 people have died since the original outbreak. Medical help and sterile conditions were harder to come by in impoverished nations. Despite adverse conditions, Africa has been able to control the outbreak. In fact, Liberia recently declared itself Ebola-free1. Even if certain countries are free of Ebola infection, neighboring countries might still be battling Ebola, and all it takes is one person to cross the border to start another round of infections. Historically, Sierra Leone and Guinea have had trouble dealing with Ebola and are still reporting cases.

Aeris with an astute observation on Ebola. Final Fantasy VII. Square.
"When your neighbor's house is on fire, you have to be careful. So we are not totally celebrating because Sierra Leone and Guinea are still fighting the virus."
– Francis Kateh, Deputy Minister of Health and Chief Medical Officer for Liberia1.

Guinea is a hotbed for Ebola. Chart represents cumulative number of reported Ebola virus disease cases per 100,000 persons since December 22, 2013. CDC.
As such, it makes sense to take more precautionary measures than reactive ones. There have been undertakings in the past to create an Ebola vaccine, but for various reasons, an effective one was not established. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) blamed pharmaceutical companies for not having an Ebola cure ready. After all, Ebola is not hyper-variable like HIV, where it is constantly mutating or changing its epitopes. On the other hand, pharmaceutical defenders point to the fact that there’s no profit to be had here, as outbreaks are typically very localized, occur randomly, and possess a limited kill count. On top of that, areas that need the vaccine the most tend to be in poor and remote areas, making the entire proposition financially risky2.

VSV-ZEBOV uses an Ebola glycoprotein. The Agency France-Presse.
Still, Merck seems to have come up with a breakthrough. Merck's vaccine, VSV-ZEBOV, consists of a vesicular stomatitis virus designed to express a glycoprotein of the Zaire strain of Ebola. The virus is live, but attenuated, and displays Ebola's glycoprotein on its envelope. People who receive the vaccine will ideally generate protective antibodies against Ebola. After successful trials in macaques, a trial was conducted in Guinea by the WHO.
Yes, 100% effectiveness! Final Fantasy IX. Square. The WHO utilized the "ring vaccination" method and treated over 7,500 people in Guinea. Ring vaccination is accomplished by finding newly diagnosed patients with Ebola. Then, their contacts and the contacts of those contacts are tracked down and given the vaccination.3 This was the largest-scale clinical trial ever conducted in Guinea and was aptly titled "Ebola ça Suffit" or "Ebola, that’s enough."4 Whether patients received the vaccine immediately or after a delay of 21 days, no new cases of Ebola were reported up to a week after inoculation with the vaccine. Perhaps most exciting of all, the vaccine has shown 100% efficacy. While larger trials and more studies must be conducted, this is promising for frontline workers that are trying to help patients and those that have not contracted the disease.
This news is highly encouraging and provides hope that protection can be offered to a large majority of the population in these areas prone to Ebola infection. Have any thoughts on Ebola or what disease you’d like to see a vaccine for next? Contact

My PI’s reaction when I think I got the hang of science...
Final Fantasy X. Square.
  1. Liberia eradicates Ebola.
  2. Share the risks of Ebola vaccine development
  3. An Ebola vaccine: first results and promising opportunities
  4. New Ebola vaccine has '100 percent' effectiveness in early results.

Contributed by Ken Lau, PhD.
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