Military’s Ebola Vaccine Tests Safe

By Patrick Tucker

April 1, 2015

An experimental Ebola vaccine appeared to be safe and effective in clinical trials, a U.S. Army research lab announced Wednesday. The vaccine worked fast and strong enough that an Army official from the lab said it could be deployed to future Ebola hotspots on short notice to quickly defuse outbreaks.

The announcement comes after months of trials that began in October in Africa. Researchers at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, performed two independent studies involving 52 volunteers, 28 of whom received the test vaccine while the rest received a placebo. Within two weeks, 93 percent of the vaccinated group showed the antibody response for which the researchers were hoping, meaning that their bodies had developed the capacity to fight off an Ebola infection. All of the vaccinated volunteers showed the response within a month.

"We saw a robust immune response following a single dose of the vaccine, which could be particularly useful in outbreak interventions," said Army Col. Stephen Thomas, senior author on the paper and the research institute’s deputy commander, in a press release.  

The experimental vaccine is dubbed VSV-EBOV. VSV stands for vesicular stomatitis virus, a disease that hits cattle, primarily, but also horses, rodents and pigs. It does not have a big affect on humans. Researchers swapped one of the key proteins in the Zaire Ebola virus for one in the VSV. That allowed them to produce the desired antibody effect without giving people Ebola. 

Other tests in Gabon, Kenya, Germany, and Switzerland showed similarly promising results. The Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Defense Chemical Biological Defense Program also supported the effort to develop the vaccine.  

The study’s findings will be published in a New England Journal of Medicine paper on April 2nd. 

By Patrick Tucker // Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine years. Tucker has written about emerging technology in Slate, The Sun, MIT Technology Review, Wilson Quarterly, The American Legion Magazine, BBC News Magazine, Utne Reader, and elsewhere.

April 1, 2015