European regulators have announced their approval of the world’s first Ebola vaccine. A panel of the European Medicines Agency is recommending conditional marketing authorization for the experimental vaccine. The vaccine, developed by U.S. firm Merck & Co., is expected to get a full marketing license from the European Commission within a few weeks.
The vaccine has been designed to protect against the most common strain of Ebola viruses to cause outbreaks, the Zaire ebolavirus. The virus causes hemorrhagic fever and kills around half of those it infects. The disease spreads from person to person through direct contact with body fluids.
Currently, there are no licensed treatments for the deadly infection. The Merck vaccine, which the company has now brand-named Ervebo, is being used under emergency guidelines to limit the spread of Ebola in the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nearly 240,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered so far. An experimental second Ebola vaccine, developed by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, is slated to be used in November in the country’s eastern provinces.
The Congo Ebola outbreak is now in its 15th month and has killed more than 2,100 people since it started. It is the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history. An epidemic in West Africa that struck from 2013 to 2016 killed more than 11,300 in the largest outbreak. A phase 3 clinical trial of Ervebo conducted in Guinea near the end of the West African Ebola outbreak showed the vaccine is protective against the virus.
The World Health Organization called the European approval of Ervebo a “triumph for public health.” WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “This vaccine has already saved many lives in the current Ebola outbreak, and the decision by European regulators will help it to eventually save many more.” The vaccine is also being reviewed under a fast-track system by regulators in the United States. A decision is expected by March 14, 2020.