This is a well-balanced, well-written story that lacked only a few minor details. We thought that a few words about cost and some discussion of other potential prevention/treatment approaches would have been ideal. Although independent sources were not included, those associated with the study presented very thoughtful and informative comments.
The world has been transfixed with the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and the enormous humanitarian crisis it has caused. The return of American health care workers from West Africa, both infected and non-infected, brought the reality of Ebola home to many Americans. The successful first steps toward the development of a vaccine is encouraging, and the story provides the reader with a good balance of optimism and reality.
Although accurate cost information is unlikely to be available at this point, cost will undoubtedly become an issue for successful deployment of any vaccine in one of the lowest-resource geographical areas in the world. We think that could have been mentioned, even at this early stage of development.
The story provides a well balanced and thoughtful presentation of the benefits seen in the trial. It notes the study was a phase 1 trial designed to identify safety. We liked the caveats given in the story. “It is safe and generates an immune response, scientists said on Wednesday, but larger trials are needed to see if it protects and if a booster is needed.” “…the immune responses are okay, but not great…” “However, the antibody response was weaker than was found in a trial of the same Ebola vaccine in macaque monkeys…” The reader gets a good overall impression of the study results and the need for additional information on the efficacy of the vaccine and that repeated dosing may be needed. The last sentence summarizes the study well, “…we still don’t know whether it will provide protection against Ebola infection in a real-world situation.”
The story provides just enough information to get a flavor for the potential harms without overly dramatizing them. Example: “The volunteers got one of three doses – low, medium, or high – and data from 28 days after vaccination showed the shot was safe at these doses, with only mild side effects.” And: “People typically experienced mild symptoms that lasted for one or maybe two days, such as pain or reddening at the injection site, and occasionally people felt feverish.”
The quality of the evidence is well described. The reader clearly knows that the study was a Phase 1 trial, the number of subjects, the three doses used and the results both in terms of potential harms and possible benefits.
Given the near hysteria that resulted in the US cases of Ebola, it would have been very easy to fall victim to disease mongering. But this story didn’t.
The story utilized quotes from the lead author and a representative of the sponsoring organization. Both were clearly identified as such so the the reader could place their comments into perspective. The two individuals quoted provided a very balanced view of the study results. However, our standard is to include the perspective of at least one person not affiliated with the research, so the story rates unsatisfactory on this criterion.
The story mentions that there are several other vaccines under development for prevention of Ebola, which we’ll call good enough for a satisfactory rating. We would have liked to have seen a few more comments about approaches other than vaccines for prevention and treatment. Good hygiene practices are the first line of defense for prevention. Several antiviral drugs are in the pipeline including Z-Mapp for treatment. And finally, antibodies extracted from the blood of survivors have been used.
The story makes it clear that the vaccine is under development and that clinical trials in West Africa are under consideration. The story could have mentioned the long testing process required before such a vaccine might be available on the ground in Africa.
The story notes that these are the first human results for this particular vaccine.
The story included two interviews and clearly went beyond any news release that may have been issued.