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Interview: Chances of new Ebola vaccines

We talk to Professor Günther Schönrich, a virologist from Berlin's Charité hospital, about the chances new Ebola vaccines have. We also ask him about the consequences of the Ebola epidemic in the global fight against epidemics.

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DW: Do you have any doubts about the effectiveness of the new vaccine?

Prof. Günther Schönrich
No, I have no doubts, because this vaccine have been developed in the past and already tried and in all experiments and already have also explored with vaccines, so I think they are safe, so everything is pointing towards that direction.

But all in all, we see that the number of new infections is actually not exploding any more, so we might not have enough patients actually to test it.

Right, right. That's great in the first place, because we want to get rid of Ebola virus, and in Liberia, it seems to be the case, but there are still cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone, and, of course, it would be a problem if there are no Ebola virus cases any more for the testing of the vaccinations, so, but anyway, we have to have this experience; we have to have the knowledge that these vaccines are safe, and at least that thing can be settled.

So, on the one hand, we actually see that the measures that had been taken to fight the virus are actually effective, so we don't - these numbers of new infections don't explode, but we still have a few cases in countries like Sierra Leone where there are still more infections coming up: do we have to fear a new outbreak?

That's definitely possible, so there's no time for complacency. We have to keep aware - and it's possible - that the epidemic reignites, so it takes some time. We have to be very careful, and most importantly, we need these vaccinations, because there are a lot of people, which are especially in danger of being infected with this dangerous bug, and these, of course, are health-care workers, ambulance drivers and members of the burial team. So we have to protect those people, otherwise we have no chance in future outbreaks.

But, even if we have a vaccine right now - an effective vaccine - I mean, viruses can mutate very quickly, so will we have to develop another one, actually, with the next outbreak?

Yes, indeed, that's a very important scientific question, and we have to keep an eye on whether the virus mutates or whether it stays stable. It's still a possibility that it's going to change, but it's not clear at the moment. If that happens, we have to adapt the vaccination.

The virus Ebola actually originated in bats. So, in order to keep people from being infected again, we'd have to stop these contacts. That probably won't work, so how fast can actually viruses jump these species barriers?

If you get into close contact with fruit bats, for example, or with non-human primates that are infected, then it's possible that the virus jumps from the animal to the human being, and then, of course, the human being is going to be sick. So you can't avoid that, because it's usually people there in West Africa, they like to have this bush meat, and therefore they slaughter non-human primates, chimpanzees, for example. Could happen, and that's the case, then they can have an infection.

(Interview: Ingolf Baur)