Guinea Ebola Vaccine Trial Uses Smallpox Strategy

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A new Ebola vaccine trial starts in Guinea this week, this one using the same “ring vaccination” strategy that eradicated smallpox in the 1970s.

Ebola vaccines are being tested in all three West African countries hit by the epidemic that’s infected 24,000 people and killed 10,000 of them. Two different vaccines are being tested: one that uses an animal virus called vesicular stomatitis virus or VSV, and another using a chimpanzee cold virus called adenovirus.

Both vaccines carry a little piece of the Ebola virus into the body to jump-start an immune response.

“We have worked hard to reach this point,” said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. “If a vaccine is found effective, it will be the first preventive tool against Ebola in history.”

WHO, the Health Ministry of Guinea, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders), and Norwegian Institute of Public Health will start vaccinating volunteers March 7.

Ring vaccination involves finding all the direct contacts of new Ebola cases and vaccinating them, creating a “ring” of immunity around patients.

“An effective vaccine to control current flare-ups could be the game-changer to finally end this epidemic and an insurance policy for any future ones,” said WHO assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny.

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-- Maggie Fox

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