The World Health Organization (WHO) has at least 1,500 experimental Ebola vaccine doses ready to be given to medical staff who are fighting the disease in West Africa, the UN health agency said Wednesday in Geneva.
WHO has been working to speed up testing of two experimental-stage vaccines – chimpanzee adenovirus developed by British company GlaxoSmithKline and a US government laboratory, and VSV developed by Canada’s health agency.
“Nothing can be allowed to delay this work,” WHO said, summing up views of vaccine and health experts who consulted this week with the agency.
Initial trials of chimpanzee adenovirus started in September on healthy individuals in the United States and Britain, and a first trial for VSV is to start in the coming days in the US.
Results on safety, effect and dosage are expected by November or December, the organization said.
Larger studies in the affected West African countries and neighbouring countries are scheduled to start in January or February.
Canada has donated enough vaccine to WHO for 1,500 to 2,000 doses, which are to be used early next year.
A WHO spokeswoman clarified that these are not to be used in the trials among the population in West Africa but for health workers and other key personnel involved in fighting the outbreak.
A staff member of the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia died last week from a “probable” case of Ebola, Karin Landgren, head of the mission, said Wednesday. The Liberian national was the first UN staffer to die from Ebola, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
So far, at least 7,200 people have been infected with Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and 3,300 have died since the outbreak started late last year, WHO said late Wednesday.
“There are few signs yet that the EVD epidemic in West Africa is being brought under control,” WHO said.
WHO noted that the situation in Guinea has become more stable, unlike the other two countries where the Ebola haemorrhagic fever has been spreading.
WHO said it was considering immunizing health workers and other people dealing with the outbreak as an emergency measure, in parallel to the planned trials early next year.
However, the experts advising WHO warned that several challenges lie ahead, including deep distrust of Western medicine and the need to store vaccines at the required temperature of minus 80 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, the White House in Washington tried to quell fears of an outbreak in the US, after the first Ebola case in the country was confirmed Tuesday.
US authorities knew exactly what to do to stop the spread of the disease, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
US health authorities were working to identify people who had direct contact with a critically ill man who flew on September 19 from Liberia to Texas, and who is the first case of the current Ebola strain diagnosed outside of Africa.
State public health authorities in Texas said that the patient may have had contact after falling ill with up to 20 people, including 5 children from the family, who are being kept home from school.
All the possibly exposed people are being closely watched for fever and other symptoms but are not in isolation, nor have they undergone testing, which can not confirm the presence of the Ebola virus until patients show signs of the infection.