Public health officials are not any more prepared to handle a large-scale Ebola outbreak than they were when one surfaced in 2014 thanks to the lack of progress surrounding vaccine development.
Although some vaccines have shown promise, momentum has slowed now that the outbreak has subsided, according to a report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Manufacturers still face regulatory and licensing hurdles that could hamper preparedness efforts.
“There was a sense that we’re all done. We’ve taken care of it. We’ve got a 100 percent effective vaccine,” Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., director of CIDRAP, told STAT. “There is still a lot of work, with a lot of very hard questions and some important financing, that still needs to be done to get us to a point of Ebola preparedness.”
The panel, which calls itself the Ebola Vaccine Team B, has released a series of reports on the Ebola outbreak and the response from public health agencies. This third report in the series notes that a vaccine from Merck is the furthest along in its development cycle, but it's still not licensed for use.
The report recommends establishing a consortium of leaders dedicated to promoting Ebola vaccine development and pushing for regulatory approval. Further clarification of the steps required for approval is also needed, according to the panel.
Mark Feinberg, M.D., the former chief science officer for Merck who is now CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, told STAT that the issues holding back an Ebola virus are likely to restrain efforts to control other infectious diseases. That was reflected in the response to the Zika virus outbreak last year, according to an article in The New York Times, where public health officials in Brazil, the outbreak’s epicenter, were quick to respond, while reaction in the United States was hampered by a lack of funding.
However, public health experts note that Latin American countries were left to decide for themselves how to respond to Zika, leading to several response failures. Lawrence O. Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, told the NYT that he “didn’t see the kind of interactive response” to the Zika outbreak that occurred during the Ebola outbreak.