Canada should be proud of Ebola response, Manitoba MP says

A Winnipeg-produced Ebola vaccine on its way to West Africa is raising some ethical questions, along with great hope.

Canada donates Winnipeg-developed Ebola vaccine to West Africa

Dr. Gary Kobinger and Minister Shelly Glover in August discussed the experimental, Winnipeg-developed Ebola vaccine that has been offered to West Africa. Kobinger is on his way to the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

Canadians should be proud of the country’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, MP Shelly Glover said Tuesday.

Canada has offered to donate 800 to 1,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine developed in Winnipeg to West Africa following a World Health Organization decision that deemed the donation of experimental treatments ethical.

“Canada will also keep a small supply of the vaccine in the unlikely event it is needed for compassionate use in Canada, as well as for research purposes,” said Glover.

Glover held a press conference with Dr. Gary Kobinger, who heads the special pathogens program at Canada’s National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg to discuss plans for the vaccine.

The vaccine has not been tested on humans, only monkeys, but so far, researchers say no major adverse side effects have been seen.

Glover said while the vaccine will help battle the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola in history, it is only a small tool in the fight against the virus.

“While the experimental vaccine is promising, it does not replace the need for rapid diagnosis, good infection control practices, and tight co-ordination among partners involved in the response,” said Glover.

It takes two to three months to produce, and it will not be distributed in West Africa until the WHO determines who will receive the experimental vaccine.

Use of unlicensed vaccine poses challenges, doctor says

With Ebola now being blamed for more than 1,000 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria — an unlicensed vaccine poses risks many may be willing to take, said Dr. Joel Kettner, a medical professor at the University of Manitoba.

"Of course, it's understandable that in that situation people are willing to say, 'Look, we'll take more risk. Because the risk of the disease is so high, we're prepared to put up with more risk,'" he said.
Dr. Joel Kettner, Manitoba's former chief medical officer of health, said there are mixed emotions about sending an unproven Ebola vaccine to Africa. (CBC)

"[There is] hope, excitement, great interest in this but caution also because there's going to be a lot of challenges to do this in a way that's scientifically sound and ethical."

Kettner expects health care workers would be the likely recipients because they are on the front line and can give informed consent.

"It's unlikely that there's going to be enough here for all health care workers who would want it," he said.

"So there will be some ethical challenges around how to prioritize and decide who will get the vaccine."

Click the audio link at the left of this page to hear the full CBC Information Radio interview: "Dr. Joel Kettner –Experimental Ebola Vaccine."