PREVAIL, the Ebola trial vaccine team in Monrovia, has admitted that it failed to provide adequate public awareness before beginning to dispense the two trial vaccines early this week.
Called Partnership for Research on Ebola Vaccine in Liberia, PREVAIL is a Liberia-U.S. Joint Clinical Research Partnership aimed at studying common infectious diseases in Liberia and developing Liberian clinical research capacity.
The vaccine study began in October last year when Liberia and the United States formed the partnership with the objective of learning more about Ebola, finding the vaccines to prevent it and accelerate their development as well as discovery of treatments to heal people who become infected with the deadly virus.
The trial vaccines were first administered on Monday to only twelve of the initial 600 expected volunteers at the newly renovated clinical research unit of the Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town.
The two Ebola trial vaccines, ChAd-3 and Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (rVSV), being administered in the country received limited public awareness, many people have observed. The lack of widespread, effective promotion of the vaccine trials has triggered rumors, fears and suspicions about them.
The vaccines ChAd3-ZEBOV, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, a British pharmaceutical company, and the rVSV-ZEBOV by Merck/NewLink in Canada, have both been recognized by a panel of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Despite the much desired objective of the vaccines to prevent future outbreaks of the Ebola virus and its devastation, the Liberian public has raised serious concerns about the trials. In reaction, the Liberian co-principal Investigator for PREVAIL, Dr. Stephen B. Kennedy, admitted at a press conference in Monrovia Wednesday that several actions were missed along the way before the trials commenced.
“We missed many steps along the way,” Dr. Kennedy said. “We failed to carry out (comprehensive) consultations. For example, we left out the media, the Legislature, women and other important groups in our consultation process during the planning stage.”
“We are not politicians; we are medical people and so we were not sensitive enough to these procedures. We only took into consideration the medical community during the initial process. However, we will do all we can to meet those concerns that are being raised.”
Dr. Kennedy, who is also the coordinator for the Ministry of Health’s Ebola Research, Incident Management System (NIMS) for the National Ebola Response, said despite the mistakes in promoting public awareness and dispelling doubts, the protocol being followed in trying the vaccines is internationally and scientifically acceptable.
He meanwhile appealed to the general public to volunteer for the vaccine trials “because it will protect them from any future outbreak of the virus.”
He also called on Liberians to remain calm because, said Dr. Kennedy, the international community’s eyes are on the country to learn the outcome of the trials.
Dr. Kennedy pointed out that a successful implementation of the trials will be Liberia’s major contribution to global public health. He refuted what he claimed to be widespread news that the trials have been halted.
What has been halted is a clinical therapeutic drug called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), an experimental drug for the management of Ebola-positive patients, he said.
He said the drug was halted because the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) withdrew PCR’s license as an Ebola trial drug. He did not say why PCR’s license was retracted.