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Canada donates 1,000 doses of Ebola vaccine; WHO says drug is likely still months away

"We cannot just take a vial of anything and start distributing it," said a WHO representative


Joanna Rothkopf
August 14, 2014 5:39PM (UTC)

Now that the largest Ebola outbreak in history has taken more than 1,000 lives, pharmaceutical companies race to conduct clinical trials on drugs that could prove effective against the virus. But as of now, there are no contenders for distribution -- in fact, the majority of these drugs aren't even close to being ready.

The New York Times' Andrew Pollack writes:

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Experts caution that most of these drugs are so early in development and in such limited quantities that they may not make a difference.

"I wish I had a better story for you, but that's it," one official at the Health and Human Services Department said after discussing the relative handful of drugs and vaccines in the pipeline, most of which have yet to be tested even in small clinical trials.

Despite the long odds, two Ebola vaccines could begin initial safety testing in people as early as next month, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his agency did not have formal contracts with some of the companies involved.

While testing will be in healthy volunteers, some of those volunteers might be health care workers who intend to go to Africa.

The Canadian government recently donated 1,000 doses of an untested vaccine called VSV-EBOV to the cause, but the World Health Organization insists on reviewing the vaccine's design and results from previous studies in non-human primates. "We cannot just take a vial of anything and start distributing it," said Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general for health systems and innovation at the WHO, in an email.

The persistent spread of Ebola has led certain U.S. hospitals to take even more stringent precautions than those recommended by public health authorities. Three American missionaries who returned from Liberia are being quarantined in Charlotte, North Carolina, even though they seem perfectly healthy. Even hospitals are going above and beyond to instill confidence in the public -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that hospital staff wear gowns, gloves, face masks and eye protection, but when faced with the threat of disease, hospitals often do much more. Mount Sinai staff wore respirators and hoods in addition to the aforementioned gear. Emory University Hospital is currently housing the two infected Americans in facilities designed to contain much more infectious diseases like SARS.

If you are at risk of having contracted Ebola, the CDC recommends that you take your temperature twice a day for 21 days, halt all long-distance travel, and stay close to hospitals.

More on the outbreak:

  • Fascinating account from the CDC on being on the ground during the outbreak
  • Nancy Writebol's husband says the American missionary is making good progress
  • Korean Air halts flights over Kenya amid Ebola fears
  • Michael Daly has a piece on the Daily Beast about how bureaucrats allowed the virus to spread to Nigeria
  • Science has a good explainer on what Ebola actually does to the body, although research is revealing more about the "nefarious" disease every day
  • Stephen T. Fomba argues that shoes are a better Ebola remedy, or at least a more immediate one, than an experimental drug

Joanna Rothkopf

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