The news: The United Nations and World Health Organization have called upon the international community to step up efforts to battle the rapidly spiraling Ebola crisis. And while countries such as Cuba have responded by sending additional medical personnel to the front lines, Canada is addressing the epidemic in a more direct way: developing an experimental Ebola vaccine for clinical trials in humans.
On Saturday, the Canadian government announced it will send 800 vials of its experimental vaccine to the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, with the first shipment arriving Monday. Though human clinical trials have only just begun, the vaccine is already showing promising results in animals.
From there, the WHO will distribute the vaccine to 250 people in Switzerland, Germany, Gabon and Kenya who have been selected to participate in the trials, which will run through November. If there are positive results by December, the trials will continue with health workers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three West African countries that have been the hardest hit by Ebola.
"Canada views this experimental Ebola vaccine as a global resource and in the interest of global public health, we are sharing it with our international partners to help address the Ebola outbreak in West Africa," Canadian health minister Rona Ambrose said in a statement.
This is something that the U.S. has failed to do. Americans have had their hands in a second promising Ebola vaccine, which has been developed by the U.K. pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline PLC and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). But while initial clinical trials have already begun, there aren't nearly enough doses to conduct trials on a scale as wide as the Canadian vaccine's.
This highlights a pervasive problem with the American response to the Ebola crisis. For years, there haven't been enough resources dedicated to studying and developing measures for the virus. Ebola vaccines and treatments have been stuck in development hell for years, with not enough public or private dollars pushing them through. And now, in the throes of an epidemic, researchers and agencies are scrambling to jump-start these projects again.
"What is frustrating is that we have another outbreak where potentially none of these treatment options are being used," NIAID virologist Heinz Feldmann told Newsweek. "The thinking has to change now. We can't just wait and wait and wait. Some of these vaccines have been stuck in this position for 10 years."
While there has been limited success with experimental treatments such as ZMapp, so far there have only been enough doses to treat the few American patients infected with Ebola. If the international community is to battle the virus on a global scale, it needs to step up Ebola research and treatment development, fast.