The current outbreak of Ebola fever, in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which has killed more than 11,000 people, has dropped out of the news as it has been brought under control. But, though new cases are now measured in dozens, rather than hundreds, a week, the disease has not been stamped out””and a new epidemic could flare up somewhere else at any time. A vaccine against the virus responsible would be of enormous value. And a paper just published in the Lancet suggests one is now available.
This vaccine, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and called rVSV-ZEBOV, smuggles one of the Ebola virus’s coat proteins into a person’s body in a Trojan horse called a vesicular stomatitis virus. This is a horse and cattle virus, and does not cause human illness, but its presence is enough to activate the immune system. This then learns to recognise and react to the Ebola coat protein””and thus, the vaccine’s inventors hope, to clobber Ebola, should it arrive in the vaccinated person’s body.