Ebola vaccine could get first real-world test in emerging outbreak

May 15, 2017

By Amy Maxmen

An outbreak of the Ebola virus has emerged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the World Health Organization (WHO) said on 12 May. Congolese authorities have reported nine suspected cases of Ebola infection in the past three weeks; the WHO has confirmed one, and tests are pending on others. Now health officials are considering whether to deploy an experimental Ebola vaccine against the outbreak, for the first time since the WHO gave it preliminary approval in April.

The aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders) is discussing a potential vaccination campaign with the Congolese government, an MSF spokesperson says. That would require the approval of the WHO, which has not decided whether to call on the approved experimental vaccine or others in development, says WHO spokesperson Tarik Jašarević. Still, he says, “we are taking this [outbreak] seriously because Ebola is always serious”. The most recent outbreak of the virus, in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, killed 11,325 people; there have been several known outbreaks in the DRC, but none has been as severe as the West African one.

There are now 12 candidate Ebola vaccines in development. None is yet approved for sale, in part because the candidates were not ready for testing until the West African Ebola crisis was on the wane. But on 27 April, the WHO’s advisory group on immunization recommended that an experimental vaccine called rVSV-SEBOV be deployed promptly should an Ebola outbreak arise.

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