STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
When Ebola struck West Africa a few years ago, the world was essentially defenseless and more than 11,000 people died. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports on a new development that means that need not happen again.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: The new weapon is a vaccine, and it's a potent one. Ira Longini at the University of Florida helped test it. He says the vaccine works way better than they imagined.
IRA LONGINI: We were able to estimate the efficacy of the vaccine to be 100 percent.
DOUCLEFF: And so the vaccine just works, like, phenomenally.
DOUCLEFF: Is that unusual?
LONGINI: Oh, yeah, it's very unusual to have a vaccine that protects people perfectly.
DOUCLEFF: By comparison, the flu vaccine last year was only about 50 percent effective. And this new Ebola vaccine works lightning fast.
LONGINI: The vaccine protected people very quickly, certainly within four or five days.
DOUCLEFF: Longini and his colleagues tested the vaccine on about 4,000 people in Guinea. This was in 2015 when there were still pockets of Ebola there. People who had recently had contact with someone infected with Ebola and who were given the shot quickly were completely protected. It's not clear, though, how long the protection lasts, whether it's months or years. The findings appear this week in the journal Lancet. The vaccine hasn't been approved yet by the World Health Organization, but health leaders on the front lines aren't waiting. GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, has already spent $5 million to stockpile the vaccine.
SWATI GUPTA: So we have made 300,000 doses available, as of earlier this year, for use if there was to be sort of any resurgence or any kind of emergency.
DOUCLEFF: That's Swati Gupta with Merck, the company making the shot. She says vaccines can take a decade to test, even longer, but the field trials for this one took less than two years.
GUPTA: It's been a pretty tremendous experience. And there's been a lot of international partners that have come together in a real unprecedented effort.
DOUCLEFF: She says the magnitude of the outbreak in West Africa made companies and academics push aside their own research agendas to come together, a model for how to work in a global crisis.
Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.