The emergency is worldwide if we consider how dangerous the virus that has already provoked thousands of victims is. We are talking about Ebola, a name that evokes death and sufferance. Cases have been registered in many countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Spain, United States. To those, we should add also Congo and Mali. Now, after years of defeats, research seems to have found the cure. To claim this, with an optimism seldom seen before, is the World Health Organization (WHO) that has anticipated the preliminary results of the clinical tests in Guinea.
Despite the mistakes and the academic discussions that have led to huge delays and difficulties to do just in a few months what normally requires a period of ten years, finally a way to prevent Ebola seems to be 100% effective. It will be capable of labeling the epidemic in West Africa with the word over.
“The world is on the verge of finding the vaccine against Ebola”, stated Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant to the WHO’s chief operating officer, while stressing that the test continues so as to have stronger evidence of the vaccine’s efficacy. The test, as Kieny has pointed out, has been conducted on the vaccine Vsv-Ebov discovered by the Canadian National Health Institute. Now it is being developed by the multinational company Merck Sharp and Dohme. The preliminary results, published in Lancet, show complete protection in two thousand cases of vaccinated people. Also in the control group there have been 16 cases out of three thousand vaccinations. “On purpose for the test have been created the so-called ‘protection rings’, created by vaccinating the contacts of the known patients as well as their own contacts” – explained the expert. “Some rings have been assigned vaccination straight away, whereas other rings have had it 21 days later”, he concluded. In the first group, except for people who were already infected at the time of vaccination, there have been no cases, whereas in the second one have been counted 16 cases”.
The results of the vaccine, has added Kieny, are so good that an independent commission that has revised the results has recommended to stop testing and to extend immediate vaccination to all of the already-recruited ‘rings’. Besides, it has advised to think of a new test that would involve also children who have not been a research object so far. Also the organisation Doctors Without Borders, that has taken part in the experiment, has expressed its hope for the vaccine to be used immediately in all other countries affected by this epidemic.
The scientific director of the Roman National Institute for infectious diseases Spallanzani, Giuseppe Ippolito, defines as a “great turn” the experimental vaccine against the virus.
“Certainly” – clarifies Ippolito to Ansa – “this vaccine represents a huge step forward in the fight against Ebola even though it arrives too late, unfortunately, when the epidemic is already waning.
This is a preventive vaccine and the test in phase III has shown that in the case studies conducted on people to whom it has been administered and who had contacts with infected people afterwards, an immune response to the virus has been developed. Those people should not fall ill”.
From here, clarifies Ippolito, comes the suggestion of a model of administration based on ‘concentric rings’:
“The vaccine should be given to people who had contacts with an infected person, beginning from those with a major number of such contacts. This is to ensure ‘enlarged’ protection in case of epidemics”. To sum up, it is a sort of ‘lock up’ for the virus that aims at preventing it from spreading.
In front of potential future emergencies, therefore, the preventive vaccine should be a crucial “weapon’:
“Yet, we ought to say – remarks Ippolito – that there are also other vaccines that are now in an advanced stage of development. Hence, it is likely that in the near future we are going to have more vaccines against Ebola”. This said, warns the expert, it becomes urgent to decide on the strategies that will ensure the accessibility and the spreading of the vaccines themselves: this vaccine, in particular, has been released by a laboratory, then distributed to thousands of people. Nevertheless, there might be a long way to go from administering the drug in the context of a study to the certainty that in case of emergency it will be provided to large masses.
Translated by Ecaterina Severin