European drug regulators on Friday recommended for approval the world's first Ebola vaccine, a move that the World Health Organization hailed as a triumph for public health.
Vaccine Already In Use Under Emergency Guidelines
The vaccine developed by pharmaceutical company Merck & Co is already being used under emergency guidelines to protect people in the Democratic Republic of Congo against the deadly disease amid an outbreak.
A randomized trial for the vaccine started during West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2015. It was led by the government of Guinea and WHO. The vaccine protects against the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus, the one often responsible for outbreaks.
It is used in the so-called ring vaccination approach in which individuals who may have been in contact with a person newly infected with the hemorrhagic disease are traced and offered a shot to protect them.
Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at the Wellcome Trust global health charity, told Reuters that the availability of the vaccine under research conditions played a key role in preventing the ongoing outbreak in Congo that was spiraling into a repeat of the 2014-2016 epidemic that claimed 11,000 lives.
European Regulators' Decision Can Help Save More Lives
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged that the Merck vaccine already saved many lives in the current Ebola outbreak, and the decision by European regulators can eventually help save more lives.
"The conditional authorization of the world's first Ebola vaccine is a triumph for public health, and a testimony to the unprecedented collaboration between scores of experts worldwide," Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
The vaccine brand-named Ervebo is anticipated to get full marketing license from the European Commission in a few weeks. Health regulators in the United States are also reviewing the vaccine under a fast-track system and will likely give the decision in the first quarter of next year.
WHO said that there are eight Ebola vaccines that are currently undergoing clinical evaluation.