Testing Ebola Vaccines? Liberians Need Light, not Darkness

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The United States National Institutes of Health and the British pharmaceutical GlaxoSmithKline, with the concurrence of the Liberian government and other partners, are planning to test two anti-Ebola vaccines on nearly 30,000 Liberians.

Announcing this at the launch of the tests last Friday, Madam Margaret Sherman, an official of the Partnership for Research on Ebola Vaccine in Liberia (PREVAIL) said the research is intended to find out which of the two vaccines is best suited to combat the Ebola virus  disease (EVD).   The Liberia Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Authority (LMHRA) said the two vaccines are the ChAd-3 and Vesicular Stomattis Virus (VSV).

Madam Sherman, who is also CEO of Clinical Operations of Global Research Partners in Liberia, an organization which seems to be totally new to Liberians, told the launching audience that contrary to the belief in some quarters that the vaccines are intended to spread further the Ebola virus, they are intended, instead, “to help verify the better one in order to combat future outbreaks of Ebola.”

She claimed that the vaccines had been tested “with positive results,” in other countries around the world which were hit by the virus.  “It is, therefore, important for Liberia, which was hardest hit by Ebola, to form part of the testing process.”  She did not name the “other countries.”

Madam Sherman said Liberians who agree to be part of the vaccines trial will first be screened, especially kidney and liver tests and their HIV/AIDS status.

The Daily Observer over the weekend conducted a survey of a cross-section of Liberians to gauge their reaction to the vaccines tests.  The reactions were mixed.  Some people readily stated that they would “take the vaccines tests.” Many others, even in New Kru Town where the launch took place, expressed skepticism about the commencement of the vaccines tests at a time when the Ebola virus has drastically declined in Liberia. 

With now barely five confirmed cases in the entire country, the Liberian government and even the World Health Organization (WHO) have confirmed this decline.  Some skeptics contend that the vaccines arrived too late, for the main people who should have been tested with the vaccines are no longer primed for testing, since they have already been cured of the virus!  They should have been tested while they were still suffering from the EVD.

Another major concern has to do with side effects of the vaccines tests.  Liberians want to know what happens to those who suffer one side effect or another from the vaccines tests.  People vividly recall the terrible effects the syphilis vaccines had on Black Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama in the 1930s and other equally devastating vaccine testing mishaps.  It took decades for the United States government to acknowledge the deadly effects which those tests had on people. 

We think it would be important for the Liberian government and its partners, particularly the National Institutes of Health, PREVAIL, LMIRA and the vaccines producers themselves, GloxoSmithKling, to address these skepticisms before going full blast with the testings. 

Liberians should not be led into this vaccine testing process of the deadly Ebola virus in the dark.           

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