The University Hospitals of Geneva that conducts the preliminary trials of Merck’s Ebola vaccine decided to interrupt the human clinical trials of the vaccine until early next year because four volunteers complained that had mild joint pain 10 to 15 days after the Ebola shot. The new vaccine is expected to prevent people fighting the Ebola outbreak in Africa from contracting the disease.
WHO recently said that the situation was getting worse in Western Africa. Sierra Leone is currently the country with the highest number of cases, with nearly 8,000 reported cases. WHO also reported that in the last two weeks two teams buried 87 bodies. Among these bodies was also a nurse, an ambulance driver and a man appointed to remove the bodies as they were piling up.
The Ebola vaccine trialed in Geneva was initially licensed by the Canadian department for public health to NewLink Genetics. In November, NewLink sold the rights to Merck saying that the latter had far more resources and competence in developing such vaccines. If the vaccine passes the human testing in Geneva, it will be further tested on West African volunteers next year.
Doctors now hope that the vaccine will stimulate a healthy immune response during the trials. The University Hospitals of Geneva said that joint pains were a common side effect in all vaccines, not just in Ebola ones and the volunteers had been previously warned.
Since November 10, the Geneva Hospital used the vaccine on 59 volunteers that tolerated it “very well”. However four of these people reported some unexpected side effects – mild pains in the joint of hands and feet that lasted about two weeks. The hospital said that it needed some time to study the effects and update its data on the vaccine. So, it decided to interrupt testing until January 5.
“[Joint pain following vaccination] is a well-documented phenomenon which does not worry specialists. The temporary interruption of a clinical trial is a standard precautionary measure in such cases,”
The University Hospitals of Geneva representatives said in a recent statement.
Apart from Merck, there’s another vaccine on trial by the GlaxoSmithKline company but no similar side effects were reported.
“These events have not been reported at any of the other clinical sites. It is not known at this time whether these events are related to the vaccine or not,”
a spokesperson for Merck Inc. said.
However, the two drug companies use different methods to develop their vaccines. Merck’s vaccine uses a genetically engineered stomatitis virus that leads to mouth disease in animals, while the GlaxSmithKleine one uses a chimpanzee virus that induces a common cold in monkeys. Both viruses are harmless to people and reprogrammed to hunt down the Ebola virus and make a protein of it.