The vaccine will start human trials sooner than planned due to the urgency of the outbreak. Image via BBC.

We might be dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history – even though no one would have predicted this a few years ago. Hastened by the urgency of the matter, a trial of an experimental vaccine against the Ebola virus is to begin in Oxford.

Normally, it would take another couple of years of testing before such a vaccine would receive the approval for human trials, but the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak is so large that medics were allowed to skip a few steps and start the trials. Initially, 60 healthy volunteers will receive the vaccine, which contains only a small portion of the genetic code, so they cannot catch the disease. If the vaccine turns out to be successful, it will initially be used to immunize workers from the area at the end of the year, when an estimated 10,000 doses will be available.

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Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute in Oxford, who is leading the trial, said:

“This is a remarkable example of how quickly a new vaccine can be progressed into the clinic, using international co-operation”.

The vaccine uses a modified chimp virus as a carrier to deliver the partial Ebola gene code. Blood tests will be conducted on the volunteers to show if the vaccine is working and if they are producing anti-Ebola vaccines. Further volunteers will be given the vaccine in Africa next month and there are trials in the United States of a different formulation.

Personally, I’m happy to see authorities finally acknowledge the necessity of implementing serious measures against the outbreak. Officially, 2,400 lives were claimed by the virus, but the real number is likely much higher than that. The United States will also send 3,000 specialized troops to Western Africa to build treatment clinics and train the local population.