Manitoba

Ebola vaccine from Winnipeg gives local African community hope

An experimental Ebola vaccine developed in Winnipeg appears to be so effective in trials in West Africa that it has scientists with the World Health Organization saying it could be a “game-changer” in the fight against the deadly disease.

'Winnipeg has been on the front-line fight against Ebola,' says African Communities of Manitoba Inc.

An experimental Ebola vaccine developed in Winnipeg appears to be so effective in trials it has scientists with the World Health Organization (WHO) saying it could revolutionize the fight against the deadly disease. That has instilled hope for many in Winnipeg's African community. 1:50

An experimental Ebola vaccine developed in Winnipeg appears to be so effective in trials it has scientists with the World Health Organization (WHO) saying it could revolutionize the fight against the deadly disease. That has instilled hope for many in Winnipeg's African community.

By this time we were thinking that this vaccine would have been up and running- Ismail Yumkella

"If proven effective, this will be a game-changer," said Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, which sponsored the trial. "It will change the management of the current Ebola outbreak and future outbreaks."

Preliminary analysis of the rVSV-Ebola vaccine, developed by scientists in Canada's National Microbiology lab in Winnipeg, found 2,014 vaccinated subjects in a trial in West Africa showed no signs of the Ebola virus 10 days after vaccination.

The vaccine was tested on more than 4,000 people who had been in close contact with a confirmed Ebola case in Guinea. Of those who received the vaccine within 10 days of being identified as an Ebola contact, there were no cases of the disease. That compared with 16 cases in more than 3,500 people who received the shot after 10 days.

Winnipeg Africans hopeful

News of the breakthrough is starting to spread through Winnipeg's African community. Ismail Yumkella, the chair of the African Communities of Manitoba Inc., said he is glad researchers are making headway on the race to find an Ebola vaccine, but frustrated by the pace.
Ismail Yumkella, the chair of the African Communities of Manitoba Inc., said he is happy to hear a new vaccine holds promise of stemming the spread of Ebola in West Africa. (CBC)

"By this time we were thinking that this vaccine would have been up and running, and that people would have been benefiting from it already." said Yumkella. "But we are happy Winnipeg has been on the front-line fight against Ebola. We welcome the news."

Yumkella is originally from Sierra Leone, one of several African countries ravaged by the virus. He said the Ebola outbreak has changed everything in West Africa, including the way people interact.

"People are not even shaking hands anymore. People are afraid to go out. People can't go about their daily lives. In fact, even as we speak there is still a state of emergency in our country," said Yumkella.

Researchers at the Winnipeg lab have been working on the rVSV-Ebola vaccine for over a year. In March, clinical trials started in Guinea, Africa.

On Friday, the Public Health Agency of Canada thanked those involved in developing the vaccine.

"Canada's experimental vaccine is a product of Canadian innovation and hard work," Rona Ambrose, Canada's Minister of Health, said in a statement. 

"We are proud of the work done by Public Health Agency of Canada scientists that led to the development of the vaccine and hope that it can be used as a global resource to help save lives and end the outbreak in West Africa."

The WHO said further trials are needed to confirm the efficacy of the vaccine. It could still be awhile before the vaccine is licensed and made widely available.

Yumkell said he looks forward to the day where he will being able to visit his home of Sierra Leone without fear of contracting the virus.

More than 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have died since the epidemic began in Guinea in December 2013.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press

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