Three New Ebola Vaccines Will Soon Be Tested in Uganda

Three New Ebola Vaccines Will Soon Be Tested in Uganda

A continuing Ebola epidemic has infected and claimed the lives of many people in Uganda. The country’s health authorities and ] World Health Organization (WHO), have announced plans for a clinical trial of three Ebola vaccine candidates. Licensed vaccines for Ebola exist, but they are not effective against Sudan ebolavirus, the species responsible for the outbreak.

Doses containing the vaccine candidates are expected be delivered to Uganda this week. According to the WHO, the clinical trial is the latest effort in stemming an outbreak that has now spread to nine districts and three densely populated areas.

The trial will include a bivalent vaccine (which targets two strains of viruses) and two monovalent vaccines (targeting one strain each). These vaccines are a bivalent adenovirus vectored vaccination developed by the University of Oxford, the Jenner Institute in England and a monovalent adenovirus vaccine vectored vaccine from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

As of November 21, 141 confirmed cases and 55 confirmed deaths had been reported. Of the 19 health care workers who have been infected, seven have died.

At the beginning of the current outbreak in Uganda WHO officials stated that a clinical trial for vaccine candidates would only be conducted if there were more cases. But the agency later revealed it was already in talks with the vaccine developers, and an existing protocol for vaccine trials that had been deployed during previous outbreaks with the Zaire ebolavirus strain was being put in place for the Ugandan outbreak.

In light of the urgency of the Ebola outbreak in Uganda, the WHO asked the COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritization Working Group to rapidly evaluate candidate Ebola vaccines to be included in a planned clinical trial in the area. The evaluators considered safety, efficacy and logistics of the candidate vaccines, the global health body said in its recommendation.

Ana Maria Henao-Restrepo, co-lead of the R&D Blueprint for epidemics at the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, explains that because there is no evidence that the new Ebola vaccine candidates are effective, vaccine doses will be given only to individuals known to be at a high risk of getting infected

” This is why we are doing this trial,” Henao–Restrepo states. She says that if data suggests that one or more of the candidate vaccines is effective, an independent expert group will review the data and give advice to WHO and the [Uganda] Ministry of Health.

If any of the vaccines is proven to be effective, regulatory authorities begin the process of granting approval. This will allow for commercialization. Parallel to this, the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization will make recommendations to Uganda and other countries regarding the use of the vaccines.

Only 1,200 vaccine doses in total will be used for the study, according to the approval granted by the Uganda National Drug Authority. According to Henao,-Restrepo, the study will only use 1 200 vaccine doses in total. This is due to the nature of their work and the close contact they have with infected persons, including health care workers. She says that Ebola can be acquired in a variety of ways. “We have learned from previous outbreaks that there is no equal risk.” While the risk to the general public is low, workers who come in contact with cases are at the highest risk for Ebola .

Ugandan authorities claim that the outbreak is under control. However, Yonas Tegegn (the WHO representative to Uganda) notes that it is important to have a risk-aware, fully engaged community in order to stop its spread. It is important to bring in societal leaders to encourage safe behaviors and to recommend preventative measures.

” I believe that our greatest tools should be risk communication, community engagement,” Tegegn states. These are areas where we have not seen much investment from our donors. We would like our partners and donors to make resources available to address these issues.”

In the initial weeks of an outbreak, Patrick Otim, a health emergency officer at the WHO’s Regional Office for Africa says that the response relies upon the continued cooperation of affected communities. Ugandan community members have been cooperating in general. However, Kyobe Harry Bbosa , Ebola incident Commander at Uganda’s Ministry of Health confirms that relatives of a victim of Ebola exhumed their body for a religious ritual. This act appears to have resulted in more people being infected and at most nine deaths.

” This has not happened since, and we believe it won’t happen again,” Otim states. “But, we must also understand that the level of concern and awareness for Ebola at the outbreak’s inception was low .”

While it took some time to follow the Ministry of Health’s guidelines, Ugandans seem to now be well aware of the Ebola threat. Otim says that the severity of the disease in the epicenter areas has decreased and there are fewer cases from those areas. Otim says that the greatest concern is that the outbreak could spread to major cities.

Health authorities are on high alert for the outbreak. The U.K. Health Security Agency, UKHSA, temporarily closed Colchester General Hospital’s urgent care center in England last week due to a possible Ebola outbreak. But UKHSA later said that there were “currently no confirmed cases of Ebola in the U.K.”


    Paul Adepoju is a science journalist based in Nigeria. Follow him on Twitter @pauladepoju

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