Final stage trials of an Ebola vaccine being developed by Merck and NewLink Genetics will begin in Guinea on March 7, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.
Signalling global health authorities’ determination to see through trials despite a sharp drop in cases in the West Africa epidemic, the WHO said a second shot, developed by GlaxoSmithKline will be tested “in a sequential study, as supply becomes available”.
More than 23,900 confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola have been reported since the outbreak began in December 2013, including some 9,800 deaths. Nearly 500 health workers have been among the dead in what is the worst ever Ebola epidemic.
All three worst-hit countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – aim to conduct final-stage trials of vaccines, and Liberia is already testing the GlaxoSmithKline and Merck-NewLink shots, while Sierra Leone is expected to announce plans soon.
But recent steep declines in new Ebola cases will make it far harder to prove whether experimental vaccines work, as the vaccine’s effect will be difficult to establish.
The WHO, however, said it was committed to pushing ahead. Margaret Chan, the WHO’s Director-General, signalled her determination.
“There has been massive mobilisation on the part of the affected countries and all partners to accelerate the development and availability of proven interventions,” she said in a statement. “If a vaccine is found effective, it will be the first preventive tool against Ebola in history.”