Scientists Announce Ebola Vaccine

Dec 23, 2016
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Scientists today are reporting that they have developed a safe and highly effective vaccine for Ebola. They think it will help stop outbreaks of the disease like the one that started in West Africa in late 2013 that killed more than 11,000 people. This vaccine was tested in record time - just two years.

NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff joins me here to talk about the news. And Michaeleen, how was this group able to pull off an Ebola vaccine in just two years?

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Well, that's the thing, Ari, is that it wasn't just one group. It was, like, a dozen groups. It was the U.S. government, Canada, Merck, the World Health Organization, the University of Florida. You know, a lot of times we hear people talk about pushing aside their own personal research agendas and coming together to attack these big problems, and this time it actually happened.

They also weren't starting from scratch. Scientists had developed a few experimental vaccines before the outbreak happened, and they had a hard time getting money to finish them. But once the outbreak happened and people saw just how horrific it was, people really came together and got this vaccine finished.

SHAPIRO: How effective is it?

DOUCLEFF: Right now it looks like one of the most effective vaccines out there - like, close to a hundred percent. Now, that's probably going to go down once the vaccine is tested more. Nothing is perfect. But you know, in general, you don't need a vaccine to be perfect to have a big impact on an outbreak. Just protecting a subset of people can basically put a shield around the community.

Now, I should also say at this point they don't know how long the protection lasts from the vaccine, but it seems to be long enough to really bring an outbreak to a screeching halt.

SHAPIRO: Does this mean there may never be another major Ebola outbreak again like the one we saw in West Africa?

DOUCLEFF: Well, you know, nobody can foresee the future. Nobody has a crystal ball. But as long as there are enough doses of this vaccine available and they can get to the people who need them, this vaccine is going to stop a small outbreak and keep it from getting out of control and growing. And that's why they've already started stockpiling the vaccine. There's about 300,000 doses available now.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff on today's report that scientists have developed a safe and effective vaccine for Ebola. That finding appears in the medical journal The Lancet. Thank you.

DOUCLEFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.