In addition to many drug candidates, there are vaccines in development. In early September, the National Institutes of Health began testing a vaccine, made by a division of GlaxoSmithKline and based on an adenovirus, on twenty volunteers. Another vaccine, called VSV-EBOV, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed to NewLink Genetics, started human trials last week. It seems possible that some time next year a vaccine may be available for use on people who have already been exposed to Ebola, though it will still not be cleared for general use. If a vaccine is safe and shows effectiveness against Ebola, and if it can be transported in the tropical climate without breaking down, then vaccinations against Ebola could someday begin.
If a vaccine works, then the vaccinators might conceivably set up what’s known as ring vaccinations around Ebola hot spots. In this technique, medical workers simply vaccinate everybody in a ring, miles deep, around a focus of a virus. It works like a fire break; it keeps the fire from spreading. Ring vaccination was the key to wiping out the smallpox virus, which was declared eradicated in 1979, but whether the ring technique””provided there was a good vaccine””would work against Ebola nobody can say. In any case, epidemiologists would not give up trying to trace cases in order to break the chains of infection.
In the U.S. and Europe, hospitals have made fatal mistakes in protocol as they engage with Ebola for the first time””errors that no well-trained health worker in Africa would likely make. But they will learn. By now, the warriors against Ebola understand that they face a long struggle against a formidable enemy. Many of their weapons will fail, but some will begin to work. The human species carries certain advantages in this fight and has things going for it that Ebola does not. These include self-awareness, the ability to work in teams, and the willingness to sacrifice, traits that have served us well during our expansion into our environment. If Ebola can change, we can change, too, and maybe faster than Ebola.