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Government pays tribute to NHS Ebola volunteers

Over 70 NHS doctors and nurses are working in Sierra Leone over the festive period

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The government has paid tribute to more than 70 NHS doctors, nurses and other health specialists who will be working in Ebola treatment centres in Sierra Leone over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The volunteers are working in British-built treatment centres, local hospitals and community centres on the ground, as part of the £230 million UK package to contain, control and finally defeat the disease in Sierra Leone.

Nurse Donna Wood joined the first wave of NHS volunteers to work directly in the British-built treatment centres. She said: "Working on the Ebola response has and continues to be a huge challenge. It is often physically and emotionally draining. However on the occasions that you witness patients recover and be discharged home to their grateful families it makes it totally worthwhile.

“From the day I arrived in the country almost four weeks ago I have been amazed by the positive atmosphere here. The local people have been so friendly and welcoming and are truly grateful to us for being here. Being away from my family this Christmas is just a small sacrifice that the people here in Sierra Leone are worthy of."

Meanwhile The Lancet reports that two experimental DNA vaccines to prevent Ebola and the closely related Marburg virus are safe, and generated a similar immune response in healthy Ugandan adults as reported in healthy US adults earlier this year.

Scientists from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the USA developed the DNA vaccines that code for Ebola virus proteins from the Zaire and Sudan strains and the Marburg virus protein. The vaccines contain the construction plans for the proteins on the outer surface of the virus. Immune responses against these proteins have shown to be highly protective in non-human primate models.

In this phase 1 trial, the Makerere University Walter Reed Program enrolled 108 healthy adults aged between 18 and 50 from Kampala, Uganda between November 2009 and April 2010. Each volunteer was randomly assigned to receive an intramuscular injection of either the Ebola vaccine (30 volunteers), Marburg vaccine (30), both vaccines (30), or placebo (18) at the start of the study, and again four weeks and eight weeks later.

The vaccines given separately and together were safe and stimulated an immune response in the form of neutralising antibodies and T-cells against the virus proteins. Four weeks after the third injection, just over half of the volunteers (57%; 17 of 30) had an antibody response to the Ebola Zaire protein as did 14 of 30 participants who received both the Ebola and Marburg vaccines. However, the antibodies were not long-lasting and returned to undetectable levels within 11 months of vaccination.

Both DNA vaccines were well tolerated in Ugandan adults with similar numbers of local and systemic reactions reported in all groups. Only one serious adverse event (neutropenia; low white blood cell count) was reported in a Marburg vaccine only recipient, but was not thought to be vaccine related.

“This is the first study to show comparable safety and immune response of an experimental Ebola vaccine in an African population”, says lead author Dr Julie Ledgerwood: “This is particularly encouraging because those at greatest risk of Ebola live primarily in Africa, and diminished vaccine protection in African populations has been seen for other diseases.”

Dr Ledgerwood added: “These findings have already formed the basis of a more potent vaccine, delivered using a harmless chimpanzee cold virus, which is undergoing trials in the USA, UK, Mali and Uganda in response to the ongoing Ebola virus outbreak.”

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