Ebola vaccine trials in Halifax so far a success, says IWK Health Centre

Local scientists testing an Ebola vaccine say they're ready to call the dosage safe and say 40 volunteers who got the shot experienced "no adverse events of concern."

Haligonians who got the shot in November and December experienced 'no adverse events of concern'

The Switzerland trial was briefly halted in December after some volunteers experienced pain in the joints of their fingers and toes. (Steve Parsons/Reuters)

Local scientists testing an Ebola vaccine say they're ready to call the dosage safe.

Forty Haligonians who got the shot in November and December experienced "no adverse events of concern," said Ben Maycock, a spokesman for the IWK Health Centre which houses the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology.

The trial is continuing as planned, Maycock said.

The next step is to learn if the Canadian-developed vaccine actually works, provoking an immune response in the volunteers. That information is expected in about a month.

However, the urgency of the current Ebola outbreak means that the safety results will be put to use immediately in trials in sub-Saharan Africa, said a spokesman for the World Health Organization.

"All the people doing the trials are kind of collating, putting together all the information, so they have as much simultaneous data as possible from concurrent trials and previous trials," said Daniel Epstein.

"They're doing this much, much faster than previous vaccine trials."

However, "they're not going to make any advance if it's not safe," he said.

Swiss trial briefly halted

A trial in Gabon of the same vaccine is "advanced" and one in Kenya began in late December, according to the WHO. Others are underway in the United States, Germany and Switzerland.

The Switzerland trial was briefly halted in December after some volunteers experienced pain in the joints of their fingers and toes. The vaccine was administered at a dose three times higher than what anyone received in Halifax, said the IWK Health Centre.

That trial resumed this week, as planned, said Epstein.

One Halifax participant said she experienced similar side effects after receiving the shot, but they went away after a few days.

"I had joint and muscle pain, but nothing was too severe," said Emily Sollows, a 22-year-old from Yarmouth studying journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax.

Sollows said she also had chills and fever-like symptoms. She has had eight or nine appointments since getting the shot and was asked to keep a journal of her health.

Bigger trial set to begin in December

The student said it's possible she got a placebo, but she said she's looking forward to hearing if she has been effectively vaccinated because she's considering trying to volunteer in countries affected by the outbreak.

"It's definitely piqued my interest in the disease as a whole," said Sollows, a former Red Cross volunteer.

"I figure if I am vaccinated against Ebola, I might as well go over and help if I have no chance of getting it."

She said she was glad she volunteered, especially after hearing the results are successful so far.

"I figured it was just such an interesting process to be a part of," she said. "It has the potential to be groundbreaking and historical."

Testing in the U.S.

A bigger trial was scheduled to start in December, testing the vaccine in 320 people in California, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Nebraska, Louisiana, Kentucky, according to a U.S. National Institutes of Health website listing clinical trials.

Health Canada scientists designed the vaccine, called VSV-EBOLNewLink Genetics, a small American company, is now helping develop it in collaboration with Merck Vaccines USA.

A second Ebola vaccine developed in the United States is also being tested.

The testing process normally takes two or three years and is being condensed into less than a year, said Epstein.

However, finding a way to manufacture and distribute the vaccine in large quantities wouldn’t likely happen in time to stem the recent outbreak, he said.

"Even if they are able to develop a safe and effective vaccine for Ebola, there are still huge logistical challenges," he said.

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