Federal officials and pharmaceutical companies are planning in the near future to start two large clinical trials of Ebola vaccines in West African countries devastated by the outbreak, a government official said Thursday.
The trials will run separately — one in Liberia, the other in Sierra Leone — and involve different designs to ensure at least one produces usable information.
“It’s very important to make sure that, given how challenging these trials might be, that we take no chances, that we have more than one trial going on,” this official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the studies have not been formally announced.
The World Health Organization held a meeting in Geneva on Thursday involving governments, pharmaceutical companies and charities, among others, to discuss Ebola vaccine trials. Conclusions of the meeting are expected to be announced Friday.
W.H.O. officials said earlier this week that trials of two vaccines furthest along in development would start in West Africa as early as January. But the details have not been known.
Participants will be people at high risk of infection, including health care workers and possibly others, including burial workers and those caring for family members with the disease.
The trials will be challenging because health care systems in countries with Ebola are breaking down. And there are sensitive issues such as whether to give some participants a placebo. A placebo-controlled trial can produce the quickest answers about whether a vaccine works, experts say. But some critics have said it is unethical to offer people placebos instead of a vaccine that might save their lives.