The Politics behind Ebola Vaccines

By Edward K. Chapnick

Currently, no approved vaccines are available for Ebola, which is pretty tragic, considering the current outbreak the world faces. And to add insult to injury, further consider that scientists from the United States and Canada reported in 2005 that they had created one that was 100 percent effective in animal testing and that it could be ready for licensing by 2011.

Had that happened, West Africa probably wouldn’t be facing the decimation it is now. So what happened?

Some say the delay in moving the vaccine forward happened because Ebola is such a rare disease that only affects a few hundred people at a time (well, until now). Others surmise (and some experts even acknowledge) the delay is because Ebola afflicts poor countries — countries where pharmaceutical companies can’t make the money they want off of it.

But now that Ebola has been seen in the United States and other non-African countries, the momentum for approving a vaccine has quickened.

All sorts of efforts and funding sources are being worked on now. Two vaccines in North America are currently in human clinical trials, which makes them the furthest along and closest to becoming available (assuming the trials go well):

  • cAd3-EBOZ: The University of Maryland is developing this vaccine. It’s based on an Ebola virus from a chimpanzee, and it looks to be generating a good antibody response in patients so far.

  • VSV-EBOV: The Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Nova Scotia is developing this vaccine. It’s based on an Ebola virus from a cow. In addition to acting as a vaccine, there are signs that it may also help those who already have Ebola.

Researchers from both groups say they should have information about the safety and dosage of the drugs in early January 2015.

The fast tracking of this vaccine development wouldn’t be possible without key funding sources, such as:

  • The Canadian government, which has committed $20.7 million for vaccine research and development

  • The EU’s Innovative Medicines Initiative, which has offered up to $350 million for vaccine research and development

  • The US Congress, which is currently considering a bill for $6.2 billion in total Ebola aid (including research and development), on top of the $423 million already donated and pledged