Toronto Star's View: Cheering Canada’s vaccine...
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Aug 04, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Cheering Canada’s vaccine victory

A vaccine against Ebola designed in Canada has been found effective against this devastating virus giving all Canadians good reason for pride


Canadian ingenuity has helped give the world the first vaccine shown to protect against deadly Ebola. This has been described as “a game changer” but it’s more than that — it’s a potential life-saver on a massive scale. Canadians have every right to take pride in their country’s scientific breakthrough.

Study results revealing the vaccine’s effectiveness were published in the British medical journal The Lancet late last week. And the findings were hailed by World Health Organization director-general Dr. Margaret Chan as an “extremely promising development” with potential to change the management of future outbreaks.

This dramatic chapter in medical history is evidence of one other thing —how much can be accomplished through bold international partnerships.

A new vaccine, dubbed VSV-EBOV, was developed by scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. They managed to isolate a fragment of Ebola, deemed highly likely to provoke an immune response, and blend it with an animal virus to create the foundation for a vaccine.

That discovery was licensed to two private-sector firms: first to NewLink Genetics of Iowa, and then to international pharmaceutical giant Merck with a mission to develop, manufacture and distribute a workable product.

Under the auspices of WHO an innovative clinical trial was begun in March involving more than 7,600 people living in Ebola-stricken communities in the West African country of Guinea. Employing a rarely used “ring vaccination” approach, researchers took to the field offering to immunize people who had recently been in contact with a known Ebola patient. More than half the individuals in these “rings” around an infected person were immediately given a dose of the experimental vaccine. Scientists waited three weeks before injecting the remaining people.

A 10-day period was allowed to give the vaccine time to kick in. They then compared the incidence of Ebola infection within the two groups. The researchers found no one who had been given an immediate injection got sick. In contrast, infection emerged in 16 people given a delayed shot — revealing that timely immunization made all the difference. An ethical decision was made to stop the study’s delays and quickly provide vaccine to all trial participants.

More data on efficacy of the vaccine is required before it can be widely deployed. Still, this represents a promising start, one that could revolutionize the battle against Ebola.

Partners conducting the trial included the Ministry of Health of Guinea, Médecins sans Frontières, and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health with funding from the Canadian government, the United Kingdom and Norway among others. This kind of teamwork is critical. A slow international response was a big reason the current Ebola outbreak has been so devastating – killing 11,300 people and infecting 27,800 since it began in late 2013.

A new vaccine, backed by a bold international determination to co-operate in a war against Ebola, could finally blunt the ravages of this deadly scourge. And Canada, to its credit, is helping to lead the way.

Toronto Star

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