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Swiss researchers say they have halted one of several trials of an Ebola vaccine because some volunteers complained of pain in their hands and feet.

The trial was stopped as a precaution after 59 people were vaccinated, the University of Geneva Hospital said in a statement. This vaccine is made using an animal virus called vesicular stomach virus, or VSV, genetically engineered with a piece of Ebola virus. It was developed by Canadian and U.S. scientists and has been licensed to NewLink Genetics Corp.

Merck, which is developing the vaccine with NewLink, said it’s not clear if the joint pain is caused by the vaccine. But the trial is meant to show the vaccine is safe, and the researchers are being cautious.

“We are aware that a Phase I study being conducted by the University Hospitals of Geneva site has been placed on a temporary hold by the Data Safety Monitoring Board for the VSV Ebola Consortium, as a precautionary measure, following the occurrence of transient complaints of joint pain in small number of study volunteers receiving higher dose levels of the vaccine,” Merck said in a statement.

“These events have not been reported at any of the other clinical sites,” the company added.

“We understand the level of vaccine being administered in the trial, which is being conducted at a number of other sites, will proceed using lower doses of the vaccine.”

More than 18,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been infected with the Ebola virus and more than 6,500 have died from it. Governments have pushed ahead with development of several Ebola vaccines because of the emergency.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said Thursday its board has voted to commit as much as $300 million to buy Ebola vaccines, and spend as much as $90 million to help countries distribute them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says virtually any vaccine can cause side-effects, and joint pain is a known side-effect of many vaccines, including the HPV vaccine that protects against cancer, the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the rabies vaccine.


-- Maggie Fox