Ebola, the disease that caused an international scare two years ago, may be on the ropes. A recent study led by the World Health Organization showed a new vaccine to be “highly effective” against the fatal disease, proving that even the most stubborn public health problems can be solved when the world’s best minds work together.
First identified in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ebola is spread through animal-to-human or human-to-human contact or through exposure to contaminated items such as linens or syringes. Sporadic outbreaks over the years culminated with an epidemic that began in 2014, killing more than 11,000 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Another 15 people, including one in the United States, were killed as the disease radiated from the three hot spots.
As the scare intensified, hospitals across America rushed to prepare for it by checking their supplies of masks and other personal protection equipment and by quizzing patients with flu-like symptoms about recent travel outside the U.S. A nurse, Kaci Hickox, made headlines when she was quarantined against her will by New Jersey officials after returning from a humanitarian trip to Sierra Leone. She has sued the state, alleging violations of her constitutional rights.
World health experts, including those from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pooled resources in the search for a vaccine. The breakthrough was reported Dec. 23 by the WHO and various partners, who in 2015 began testing a vaccine in a part of Guinea still experiencing Ebola cases. The vaccine, administered to 5,837 people who were exposed in some manner to the disease, showed 100 percent effectiveness.
Some questions about the vaccine’s effectiveness, such as whether it works long-term, remain. However, the vaccine represents an amazing step forward against a disease that has had its way with humanity for 40 years.