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Why an Ebola Vaccine Is Not Enough

The Ervebo vaccine is a great stride forward in global health. But while it will save lives, it should not be viewed as a magic bullet for preventing and addressing future Ebola outbreaks. Above all, international donors must work closely with African governments and national public health institutes to ensure that the vaccine can be delivered to everyone who needs it.

ABUJA – When the US Food and Drug Administration approved the new Ebola vaccine Ervebo last month, I was elated. Ervebo can generate a quick immune response after a single dose, with protection occurring within ten days. If only such a vaccine had existed a few years ago, I thought.

In 2015, I co-led an African Union-commissioned evaluation by EpiAFRIC of the AU’s efforts to address the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. For two weeks, my team and I traveled throughout the three countries, interviewing AU volunteers, community members, international partners, senior managers at health ministries, and other stakeholders who worked to stem that outbreak. We also visited a Coyah Ebola treatment center in Guinea.

During our evaluation, we saw the devastation caused by Ebola, and how weak health systems in the three worst-affected countries had enabled the infection to spread like wildfire. By the time we had finished our interviews, it was clear to us that a stronger health system could have prevented the outbreak, and could even have helped to stop it once it had begun. We wished there was an Ebola vaccine.