OTTAWA -- Up to 1,000 doses of an Ebola vaccine developed at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg will soon be on the way to West Africa to help stop the spread of the worst outbreak of the virus the world has ever seen.
"This is one of the many accomplishments of this world-renowned lab," Manitoba regional minister Shelly Glover said Wednesday at a news conference in Winnipeg.
Canada announced it would donate between 800 and 1,000 doses of the vaccine to the World Health Organization, which will decide who will get the doses and how they will be distributed.
"We hope this (decision) will happen as quickly as possible," said Glover. "In the meantime, they remain here in Winnipeg ready to go at a moment's notice."
The vaccine was developed by researchers at the Arlington Street lab and has shown to be 100 per cent effective in preventing lethal infection of Ebola in non-human primates. It has not been clinically tested in humans. However, experts from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization decided separately it was ethical to offer untested drugs to patients in West Africa.
The current outbreak began in Guinea last December and spread to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone. A small number of cases has also been diagnosed in Nigeria.
Nearly 2,000 people have been diagnosed with the Ebola virus and 1,069 deaths have been reported to date.
Ebola causes hemorrhagic fever in humans and animals and is spread through the transfer of contaminated bodily fluids, such as blood or saliva.
Dr. Gary Kobinger, chief of special pathogens for the National Microbiology Lab, said Wednesday the vaccine can be used in higher doses for people who have already been exposed to the virus, or in smaller doses for people who are at risk of exposure.
He said it's not entirely known yet how the vaccine works, although there are two main theories.
The first is the vaccine stimulates an immune response in the body that battles the virus in a race against time. The second theory is the vaccine competes with the virus for the same target cells, and if it wins that race, the virus is shut out.
Kobinger said no adverse reactions have been seen in primates, nor in the one human being who received the vaccine. In 2009, a lab worker in Germany was given the vaccine after she may have exposed herself to Ebola in a lab accident. She never developed Ebola but it was also not known if she actually came in contact with Ebola when she pricked her finger.
Glover stressed the decision on who will get the vaccine will be made by scientific experts, not politicians.
The vaccine is not the same as the drug used to treat two Americans and a Spanish priest who were diagnosed with Ebola after treating patients in Africa. That drug, known as ZMapp, is a serum, not a vaccine. It was developed in part by researchers at the Winnipeg lab, along with U.S. researchers.
The priest has died but the two Americans are alive and being treated in a hospital in Atlanta.
This is the second time in the last five years the Winnipeg lab has been called on to help with a vaccine for an immediate public-health threat. In 2009 it was ground zero in developing the vaccine for H1N1.
The lab is the only level-four biocontainment facility in Canada and is capable of handling the world's deadliest organisms, including Ebola.
Ten doses of the vaccine were already sent to Geneva to be used on relief workers.