Ebola and the West: When will the vaccine be ready and more importantly, who will recieve it?

As Canada continues to prepare for Ebola, Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged Canadians to stay viligant for a disease that in all likelihood, will at least make an appearance in Canada.

While attending the Rotary Foundation Polio Eradication conference on Oct. 18, Harper drew a comparison between Ebola and Polio, remarking that neither should be underestimated due to the role of globalization and modern travel accessibility.

“What has happened recently with Ebola reminds us that in an age of globalization and particularly global trade and travel, what was a problem that was at one time far away from us could arrive at our shores very quickly”.

“This is why we must continue to fight to secure the eradication in the few places where Polio remains, but also why we must continue to push people everywhere to understand that this is a threat, to continue with their immunizations, which have been so important in the progress we’ve made so far.”

VSV-EBOV, the experimental Canadian vaccine

VSV-EBOV, the experimental Canadian vaccine

Additionally on Oct. 18, Liberia’s ambassador to Canada made a desperate plea for more assistance from Canada in combating the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, specifically calling on Canada to send more health care workers, medical supplies as well as the experimental Canadian vaccine that has been in development for months.

“We appreciate what the Government of Canada has done, but we will be asking them to do a little more than that,” remarked Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh at the fundraising march for the global Ebola relief effort hosted in Hamilton.

“We know they have the resources. We know they have the technology. We know they have the capability, the man power.”

Sulunteh’s plea for an increased commitment from Canada comes after Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced that they would be pledging an additional $30 million on top of the $35 million that has already been pledged. Despite this increase in economic support, Canada has only spent around $5 million of their total $65 million commitment.

In response to this, Suluteh stated that Canada’s help is “very much appreciated,” but “a country such as Canada can do more than that”.

In regards to the development of the experimental Canadian vaccine, Suluteh remarked,“What are they waiting for? It’s about time to utilize that,” clearly sensing the urgency of Ebola, which while being the centre of attention in the West’s media, has seemed to remain stagnant in terms of providing a definitive vaccine.

According to the Canadian government, approximately 800 to 1000 vials of the experimental vaccine will be sent to the WHO base located in Geneva on Oct. 20. Upon arrival, clinical trials will begin to determine if the vaccine is ready to be used for people. It has also been stated that testing could be delayed until the start of November, a point that seemingly confirms that while Canada is committed to ending Ebola, it has no problem in doing so at its own pace.

Additionally, the WHO will consult with its associates, representing various health authorities from countries currently dealing with the Ebola outbreak, in an attempt to decide the best way to distribute and use the vaccine.

According to Dr. Gregory Taylor of the public health agency, “This vaccine, the product of many years of scientific research and innovation, could be an important tool in curbing the outbreak. We will continue to work closely with the WHO to address some of the ethical and logistical issues around using this experimental vaccine in the fight against Ebola”.

The experimental vaccine which has been receiving global attention, was developed as a joint collaboration between the Public Health Agency of Canada and American researchers. It has only been used on two American health-care workers who became infected with Ebola in Liberia, and is thus still considered highly “risky” to use until further trials are done. Despite this, both patients survived the treatment and are currently recovering from Ebola leading one to assume the vaccine works.

Despite this, various doctors have noted that two patients surviving Ebola is not enough to give credibility to the vaccine as both patients simply could have recovered on their own accord.

Regardless of the state of development of the vaccine, it is clear that time is running out as Ebola continues to spread across Africa, a point shown in Suluteh’s statement that he would use the vaccine, despite the risks in order to help combat Ebola now.

“Even if it would be the guinea pig, use it on us,” he said at the fundraiser.

While Canada is clearly making a great effort to combat Ebola, one should question if Canada is treating Ebola due to the suffering of countless people, or due to its own fear of being caught off guard by Ebola itself. Remember, Canada did not conduct human trials for the vaccine until it came closer to home.

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