By this point, after our discussion in class and the non stop news reports of Ebola, we all have a pretty good understanding of what the virus is and what it does to the body. In short, Ebola is a virus that causes a severe fever along with organ failure and severe bleeding, and over time, the symptoms become worse and include bleeding from the eyes, bruising, internal bleeding, etc. The virus comes from fruit bats infected with the virus in West Africa, and it is spread through contact with bodily fluids. The longer someone has the virus, the more contagious it becomes, and if a person infected gets any body fluids on any surfaces, the virus can live on it for several hours. The virus is and continues to spiral out of control as people cannot quarantine it and it has killed more than 4,400 people in just Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization quoted in a New York Times article.
In class we talked about how a possible vaccine for Ebola would not be released until the beginning of the new year at the earliest. However, is there already a vaccine that exists and could be the answer thousands have been waiting for?
Right now, there are more than a dozen Ebola drugs being worked on, yet they have not been approved by the FDA. The FDA did approve a couple for emergency use, one of them being called ZMapp. Zmapp was used on two of the few United States patients. Another possible “vaccine” or cure for the infected patients, as mentioned in class, is the potential use of a survivor’s blood to kill the virus in another person of the blood type.
According to the New York Times, about a decade ago researchers had been working on a vaccine to cure Ebola when it was not yet causing so much hysteria. They developed a vaccine that was going to be potentially ready for licensing in 2010/2011, yet it never happened and the vaccine got put on a shelf. Ebola used to be rare, so then it was not a big concern to find an immediate cure. Now, with almost 5,000 people dead, government and other groups are testing the vaccine created a decade ago. The vaccine is made from a strand of VSV, vesicular stomatitis virus, that was for a mouth disease in cattle but hardly effects people. It had already been used for other vaccines although, so they removed a few of the genes and replaced them with an Ebola gene. Now they are testing this new vaccine with monkeys, as they are considered a good alternate to humans. The tests results show that it has worked and cured the monkeys, and now trials on humans are just beginning.
In class today, we talked about wether or not vaccines are harmful to people and if they are safe or not. We talked about Smallpox and how a vaccine was created to treat it and scientists were able to globally eradicate the virus in 1977. Smallpox had killed 300-500 million people in the 20th century and got to a point where 2 million where dying a year. Polio was also eliminated in America from a vaccine as well, so they can work very well, although some work better than others.
My question is why if they have a vaccine that was almost licensed in 2010, and they had it ready to go on the shelf, is it taking so long for the vaccine to be given to the thousand of people infected in Africa who are currently dying at a faster rate each day? Why is it just in the beginning stages of human trial now? And why, if the FDA approved certain drugs for “emergencies” are they not being distributed to people in Africa because they are still being “tested” but were given to the two patients in America? If the drugs are good enough for emergencies, why are they not allowed for all cases?
Andrew brought up a very rational point in class today, being that we have a significantly higher, almost 100% chance higher, risk of dying in a car accident each day than we do from receiving a harmful vaccine. Yet, we believe that the risk of getting in a car is acceptable. Why, if the vaccine that is already in existence and has cured monkeys, and is not even considered one of the emergency drugs, is it not being large-scale distributed like the vaccine for Smallpox was? Perhaps because the FDA thinks there is too great of an element of “chance” or risk, yet clearly there is a greater risk of dying in a car crash or being seriously injured.
In my personal opinion, if the drug is proven to work, I believe people should be given the option of having the vaccine injected because it would be at their own risk, yet could save their lives and help stop the spread of Ebola.