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One of the first people to volunteer for human testing of an experimental Ebola vaccine said the effort is his small contribution to the fight against a "horrendous disease."
Nick Owen, 27, manages content on the website for aid organization Doctors Without Borders. And while he said he's participating in the British trial independent of his employer, he said the work of his colleagues and other health workers in West Africa inspired him to help.
“I was given a chance to, in a very, very small way, to respond to this crisis," Owen said Thursday. "I can play a very tiny cog in getting the vaccine out in the field.”
He added: "I can play a part in protecting my colleagues."
The trial began Sept. 17 and is being conducted at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford. The vaccine was developed by drug firm GlaxoSmithKline and the National Institutes of Health.
“The objective of this vaccine isn't to have it sold — it’s to have it deployed and used in a sort of emergency relief setting in the three afflicted countries in West Africa,” Professor Adrian Hill, who is leading the trials, said Wednesday.
Owen was given the vaccine on Oct. 1, among the first in a trial that will eventually include 60 volunteers. Hill said participants are closely monitored over a six-month period. This observation phase includes physical exams, blood tests and the assessment of any symptoms. Owen said the side effects following the shot were minor.
"I felt a lot worse from having a standard flu vaccine than the Ebola vaccine,” he said, adding that the researchers are hoping to see results by the end of the month.
Polly Markandya, 42, who has been working for Doctors Without Borders for more than 15 years, got her shot Wednesday. She referred to herself as a “human guinea pig” and said she agreed to participate in the clinical trial after seeing first-hand in Uganda how ravaging the disease can be.
“Someone asked me about my motivation, and I explained I know what’s going on, and anyone who knows what's going on would want to do something to help,” she said.
The Ebola outbreak has killed at least 3,879 people, mostly in the African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the latest data from the Word Health Organization.
Owen said his loved ones were worried about his participation in the trial, but he feels reassured.
“My family and friends think I’m slightly crazy for wanting to do this. My mom was a bit worried," he said. "It’s very safe, I felt very reassured if the worst that could happen was the flu or having a sore arm.”
On her part, Markandya said she doesn’t feel particularly brave for agreeing to participate in the trial.
“It’s just not that big a deal. And if someone asked me to give a pint of blood to help Ebola, of course you would do it,” she said.