Liberia has become Ebola free last week. With no more patients to receive the Ebola vaccine testing, the drugs will be used in Guinea instead.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) may move its clinical trials of Ebola vaccines to Guinea because there are insufficient Ebola cases in Liberia for a proper effectiveness trial.
The NIH launched an initial safety trial for two vaccines against Ebola in Liberia on February 2. The scheme was to sample 600 people for protection and then launch a second stage in 27,000 people to see whether or not the vaccine works.
The week of March 9, safety test was triumphant—but around the same time, Liberia announced that it had freed its last patient from its Ebola treatment centers. The West African country began the count to 42 days without new cases, at which point it can declare itself Ebola-free. That’s a great news for ending the outbreak, but it raises a problem for vaccine trials.
Now that Ebola is no longer a risk in Liberia, the trial is impossible to continue according to the initial plan.
The deputy director for clinical research and special projects at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. H. Clifford Lane, said “It doesn’t make sense to expand the study in Liberia when there are fortunately no new infections occurring. We need to be sure we enroll a population that is still at risk for Ebola virus infection so we can show the protective effect of either or both of the vaccines.”
He said the NIH is now in conference with other countries, mainly Guinea, to move the second part of the trial.
“I hope not.” Lane’s answer when asked if there is any fear that the trial could be cancelled.
Lane says the explanation why the NIH is concentrating more on Guinea than Sierra Leone is that there are already large-scale vaccine trials in the country compared to Guinea. “I think the greater opportunity is [in Guinea] because there isn’t as much going on with vaccines. I hate to give a timeline, only because it never comes out that way, but we have to move quickly if we hope to get a result. I actually hope the standard control measures will begin to show results in both of the countries that still have cases”.
The NIH and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) developed one of the vaccines, and the other vaccine comes from the Merck.
World Health Organization reported on Thursday that deaths from Ebola in, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea have exceeded 10,000, and total cases over 24,500. A healthcare worker who was volunteering in Sierra Leone tested positive and treated in the NIH’s specialized unit in Bethesda, Maryland, the NIH reported.