Two experimental vaccines against Ebola are currently being tested to see whether they are safe to use in people, and health officials have said that millions of doses could be available by the end of next year. But how do the vaccines work?
Both vaccines essentially consist of a harmless virus that has been “spiked” with a protein from the Ebola virus, said Derek Gatherer, a bioinformatics researcher at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom who studies viral genetics and evolution.
If a person is given the vaccine, “the body thinks it’s being infected with this rather innocuous virus, [and] part of the virus happens to be the Ebola protein,” said Gatherer, who is not involved in work on the Ebola vaccines. This prompts an immune response, and the body develops antibodies against the Ebola protein, Gatherer said.
Ideally, if a vaccinated person were later exposed to the real Ebola virus, these antibodies would be ready to fight off the infection before it could take hold.
The first vaccine, which began safety testing this summer, is being developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and GlaxoSmithKline. It consists of a type of cold virus called an adenovirus that affects chimpanzees and has genetic material from two strains of Ebola: Zaire Ebola (which is causing the current outbreak in West Africa) and Sudan Ebola, according to NIAID.
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