Uganda said this Monday, 5th August they had started a trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine that may be used in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where an outbreak has killed so many people.
The trial of the MVA-BN vaccine developed by Johnson&Johnson is expected to last two years, Uganda’s Medical Research Council (MRC) said.
The vaccine will be administered to up to 800 health professionals and frontline workers such as cleaners, ambulance personnel and mortuary and burial teams, in the western district of Mbarara.MRC spokeswoman Pamela Nabukenya Wairagala said vaccinations had already begun.
The MRC said the trial would be led by Ugandan researchers and supported by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.At present, there is no licenced drug to prevent or cure Ebola although a range of experimental drugs are in development.The Congo outbreak is the first time that a vaccine has been used as a full-scale weapon against the virus.
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Health authorities have been issuing the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, developed by US pharma group Merck — a product that has yet to be licenced but has been shown to be safe and effective.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for its deployment to be expanded and has recommended the Johnson&Johnson vaccine also be rolled out in order to meet needs.
However, the latter move has been resisted.
Congo’s former health minister, Oly Ilunga, who stepped down in July, was among the detractors.
The MRC said the Johnson&Johnson vaccine “is safe” and had been tested on more than 6,000 people in Europe, the US and African nations including Uganda.
However, its efficacy is unclear because it has never been assessed in an outbreak scenario.
The trial taking place in Uganda, where there is no Ebola, will look at the response of the immune system to the vaccine — a key pointer of effectiveness.
It will also look at safety and the attitudes of participants towards the vaccine, the MRC said.
Professor Pontiano Kaleebu, the lead Ugandan researcher in the trial, said developing a reliable vaccine was a key component to controlling Ebola epidemics.
“In this trial, we hope to avail more information that will help us work towards having a licenced Ebola vaccine,” Kaleebu said in a statement.