Ebola vaccine: a shot of human ingenuity

According to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the ongoing outbreak of ebola in West Africa has now sickened nearly 28,000 people and killed 11,279. This is an astonishing death toll from a terrifying disease which, until recently, had only surfaced sporadically, with far fewer deaths. While the number of reported cases has dropped sharply – with just 62 in the past three weeks across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – the potential for future epidemics remains.

Thankfully, there is now hope on the horizon. Trials of a vaccine have proven to be hugely successful – nothing less than ‘spectacular’, according to Jeremy Farrar, head of the medical research charity the Wellcome Trust, which supported the research alongside the Norwegian government. The vaccine was given to 4,000 people who had close contact with ebola victims. None of those who received the vaccine quickly after the initial case was diagnosed went on to contract the disease. Even where there was a delay in providing the vaccine, it still provided a good level of protection. While the vaccine may prove to be a little less than 100 per cent effective in the long run, this is still a remarkable success story.

Having access to a vaccine means that it can be provided to medical staff and those in the proximity of an outbreak very quickly, enabling us to stop the disease in its tracks before it spreads widely. Given the enormous disruption caused to West African countries by the current ebola outbreak, with businesses and schools closed for long periods to prevent it spreading, and vital resources diverted from other medical needs, this is a real boon. It is also testament to what can be achieved when humanity’s accumulated knowledge and expertise is focused on a problem. While WHO obsesses over the dangers of our lifestyle choices, it might be better served by giving greater support to programmes that can provide vaccines to combat other dreadful diseases that still blight the developing world.

Rob Lyons is a columnist for spiked.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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