The Ebola vaccine that was produced by the US pharmaceutical company Merck has been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on the 11th of November, 2019. This vaccine is the first to help control the spread and epidemic of the Ebola virus.
Ebola is a haemorrhagic fever that can cause vomiting, severe diarrhoea and bleeding and it is highly contagious, there are several other vaccines that are in development stages for the treatment of Ebola, Merck’s vaccine is the only vaccine that has already been used during an outbreak and it was shown to prevent infection effectively. The vaccine was first patented in 2003 and has been given in emergency cases to fight the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since it started in 2018 and also in Guinea in the year 2015. This approval by EMA means that the vaccine can now be stored in large quantities and that it has the potential for large-scale distribution more than it is now especially in Africa. Many people have gotten the Merck vaccine in the current outbreak in DRC and this includes more than 60,000 workers in the healthcare sector of DRC and the neighbouring countries.
This vaccine has the market name Ervebo and also known by scientists as rSVS-ZEBOV-GP and it protects against the Zaire species of Ebola virus which is the cause of the 2014-16 West Africa and the current DRC outbreak.
A global health partnership that is based in Geneva, Switzerland called Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, that provides funds for the distribution of vaccine in low-income countries, has already promised manufacturers of Ebola vaccines in 2015 to buy the immunizations once it has been approved by a ‘’stringent health authority’’ which can be used to describe EMA. The Chief Executive of Gavi, Seth Berkley, in a press release after the approval of Merck’s vaccine by EMA, said ‘’This is a vaccine with huge potential. It has already been used to protect more than 250, 000 people in DRC and could well make major Ebola outbreaks a thing of the past.’’ The organization has already given its support for the mass storage and distribution of the Ebola vaccines and hope to create a worldwide supply that will be able to help quickly in cases of future outbreaks.
David Heymann, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine also said that the approval by EMA ‘’makes a big difference’’. He also said, ‘’The message is that the research is not done. It must continue, it’s really important to continue to study vaccines and develop those second- and third-generation vaccines’’ as they have the potential to provide long-lasting immunity and attack more than one species of Ebola and storing it should also be easier.
Research still continues as it is imperative to find other usages for the vaccine such as to prevent infection for health workers that works in emergency cases and might come in contact with Ebola virus in the future. There is need to know how long the vaccine’s protection can last and whether immunity can be extended with the use of an additional dose i.e. a booster.
A vaccinologist at the University of Oxford, Adrian Hill said, ‘’The question remains, which vaccine would you give to, say, health-care workers to prevent them getting Ebola?’’. He also said it is imperative to create vaccines that can protect against other species of Ebola virus such as the Sudan species that has caused seven known outbreaks since the year 1976. According to World Health Organization (WHO), there are seven more Ebola vaccines that are at different stages of clinical testing. The WHO has announced on the 12th of November, 2019 that it has ‘’prequalified’’ this Ebola vaccine by Merck which means that the vaccines meets the agency’s efficacy, quality and safety standard. It will be decided next month by the Gavi’s board if there should be a global bank for the Ebola vaccines.