Yesterday, a woman from Oxford volunteered to be the first Briton to be injected with the experimental Ebola vaccine, which will be fast-tracked for use in West Africa if it shows positive results.
Already the untested vaccine has gone into mass production, with 10,000 doses being created by the British drug company GastroSmithKline. It has been funded by the Wellcome Trust and the UK government, who are also supporting the trial in Oxford.
The British volunteer is 48-year old Ruth Atkins, a communications and engagement manager in the NHS from Marcham in Oxfordshire, who was a former nurse. She had heard about the vaccine trial run by researchers from Oxford University over radio while driving from work.
She said: “I volunteered because the situation in West Africa is so tragic and I thought being part of this vaccination process was something small I could do to hopefully make a huge impact.”
After the vaccination, she said one hour later, “I feel absolutely fine, it felt no different to being vaccinated before going on holiday.”
If the vaccine is proved effective, supplies will be on hand to protect the thousands of health workers, who will receive the vaccination first, unlike the situation with ZMapp, where only a few doses where available and given to foreign aid workers.
59 other healthy people will be vaccinated alongside Atkins to find out if the experimental vaccine has any negative side effects. Tests that have involved animals have had no effects so far.
Currently the Ebola outbreak has become so severe that there are economic stakes as well as human: the World Bank warned on Wednesday that if the outbreak is not contained by the end of next year, billions of dollars could be lost from West African economies. Already the bank has pledged $200m to assist the three worst affected countries, and the US will be sending 3,000 troops to help deal with the outbreak.
Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, who is running the trial, said: “Witnessing the events in Africa makes it clear that developing new drugs and vaccines against Ebola should now be an urgent priority. It is tremendous that so many people have worked hard to make this trial happen in a short time, and I ‘am enormously grateful to those volunteers who have come forward to take part and to the funders including the Wellcome Trust, DfID, MRC and MHRA for supporting this trial so quickly.”