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Breakthrough in quest for Ebola vaccine

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– More testing required –

One of two leading vaccine candidates, VSV-ZEBOV has been developed and tested in a super-quick 12 months, compared to the normal decade or more. Ebola has no licensed cure or treatment.

The trial, backed by drug firm Merck, the WHO and the governments of Canada, Norway and Guinea, saw 4,123 high risk people vaccinated immediately after someone close to the trial participant fell ill with the haemorrhagic fever.

None of the vaccinated group caught the virus.

A second, comparison group of 3,528 people received the vaccine three weeks after potential exposure. Sixteen of them contracted the virus while unprotected, said the study, but by day six after inoculation, everyone in the second group was also fully shielded.

“Indeed, no vaccinee developed symptoms more than six days after vaccination, irrespective of whether vaccination was immediate or delayed,” said the study paper.

The vaccine was safe, with no serious side-effects, according to the study.

Not known is how long the protection lasts, or the vaccine’s effect on pregnant women and children — high risk groups not included in the trial.

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The news was greeted with optimism in the Guinean capital of Conakry, where the coordinator of the country’s fight against the virus, Sakoba Keita, expressed his “supreme satisfaction” in a press conference late Friday.

“We hope that with this discovery, the stigma that we have had to deal with and the fear of this illness will end,” Keita said, while adding that existing measures aimed at preventing the virus would remain in place.

The WHO’s representative in Guinea, Mohammed Belhocine, advised caution, however.

“Given the danger of this epidemic, this is just a partial result. We should celebrate it, but must not allow our guard to drop,” he said.

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