The World Health organisation (WHO) have announced their intention to rush plans to introduce a new Ebola vaccine without testing its effectiveness.

Recently, the WHO claimed that traditional methods of reducing the spread of Ebola – such as quarantine – have failed to work, so therefore they are now bringing forward the idea of enabling scientists to introduce untested vaccines into the field.

A typical vaccine trial starts small. Scientists inject about 20 healthy volunteers and closely monitor their health for six months to a year. They test volunteers’ blood every other week and check for signs like fever or swelling, which could indicate the vaccine is unsafe. Eventually, the scientists add more volunteers to the study. And they test higher doses.

So with Ebola, this would involve setting up a trial with thousands of people in places where Ebola outbreaks are occurring. One group would get the real vaccine; the others would get a placebo.

By comparing the two groups, developers could begin to understand whether their vaccine is effective.

But Ebola vaccine researchers are debating whether to bypass this phase of testing.

However, not all researchers are convinced about the idea of rushing an untested pharmaceutical drug into the field without the adequate safeguards.

For example, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, said: “If you did it in the way where you never could tell whether it worked well, worked a little, didn’t work at all, or actually made people worse … you could actually propagate a disaster.”

He has previously had experience of working with vaccines that appeared safe – most notably in a HIV/Aids vaccine trial that was initially deemed to be safe and effective, but in later tests “increased the risk of HIV infection” in the people who were vaccinated.

Last month, WHO said in a statement it supports the use of unproven interventions to treat Ebola. It held a meeting in Geneva this week to come up with a strategy for how to move forward.

Meanwhile, the disease is reported to have spread to America and Spain, with a number of journalists and medical workers who have visited Sierra Leone having been infected.

US journalist Ashoka Mukpo is reported to have contracted the disease and told family members that he believed he got it while washing the car of an infected person.

It is not clear why, as a journalist he was washing the car. If that is indeed the way he caught the virus, then it raises serious doubts over the assertion from the Centre of Disease Control that at Ebola can only be contracted by coming directly into contact with the blood of an infected person. It is also unclear how this latest strain of Ebola came about in Africa.

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