Ebola vaccine (Delta VP30) FAQ

What is Ebola?

  • Ebola is a virus that can cause a severe and often fatal disease called Ebola virus disease (EVD).
  • The virus was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, there have been sporadic outbreaks of EVD, with the most recent one in 2013-2016 affecting West African countries, mainly Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
  • While the natural host of Ebola virus remains unknown, researchers think fruit bats are the most likely reservoir.

How does Ebola Virus spread?

  • Ebola does not spread through the air or through water. There is no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects can transmit Ebola virus.
  • In humans, Ebola can spread through close and direct physical contact with bodily fluids, especially blood, vomit and feces, from a person infected with the virus.
  • Ebola can also spread through contact with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids and through the use of contaminated needles and syringes.
  • Ebola has also been detected in urine, breast milk, and semen. Some studies have found the virus in saliva and tears, but these results are still inconclusive.

Why do we need a vaccine for Ebola Virus?

  • There are no proven treatments or vaccines for Ebola virus disease, although several vaccines are at various stages of development.
  • About 70% of those who get infected with Ebola die from the disease. The 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa claimed more than 11,000 lives.
  • Having an effective vaccine can help hundreds of millions of people who are at risk from Ebola.

What is the Delta VP30 vaccine?

  • The Delta VP30 vaccine is based on an impotent and inactivated version of the whole Ebola virus. A critical viral gene – VP30, which the Ebola virus needs to reproduce in host cells – is deleted. Without this gene, the Ebola virus cannot replicate in humans or other animals.
  • Delta VP30 is different from most other Ebola virus vaccines because to our immune system it looks nearly identical to the natural virus.

Can the Delta VP30 vaccine cause Ebola virus disease?

  • No.
  • Delta VP30 can only grow in specialized cells engineered to make the VP30 protein. The cells in our bodies don’t make VP30 protein. Delta VP30 cannot reproduce in cells that don’t make VP30 protein.
  • The United States Federal Select Agent Program has excluded the Ebola Delta VP30 replication-incompetent virus from its list of Select Agents as it “does not pose a severe threat to public health and safety, animal health, or animal products.”

Who developed the Delta VP30 vaccine?

  • The Delta VP30 vaccine was constructed on an experimental platform first devised in 2008 by Peter Halfmann, a research scientist in Yoshihiro Kawaoka’s lab.

Why use a vaccine based on the whole Ebola virus?

  • Vaccines ‘train’ the immune system to recognize and fight specific diseases. As an impotent, inactivated whole virus vaccine, Delta VP30 shows the immune system more of the Ebola virus, which could confer greater protection against infection compared to vaccines that include only one or two Ebola proteins.
  • In 2015, the Delta VP30 vaccine was shown to effectively protect monkeys from Ebola, a species highly susceptible to the virus.

Is it safe to manufacture the Delta VP30 vaccine at the Waisman Center?

  • Yes.
  • Waisman Biomanufacturing, the facility that will manufacture the Delta VP30 vaccine, has years of experience producing a broad range of vaccine products safely, in large quantities and to clinical and industry standards.
  • UW-Madison’s Institutional Biosafety Committee has reviewed and approved work with Delta VP30 at the Waisman Center.
  • Work in the lab, which will be done at Biosafety Level 2, will include expert oversight and conform to all applicable rules and regulations imposed by the federal government and UW-Madison.

Who can I contact if I want more information?