In a widely shared Onion article from a few days ago, scientists “announced” that an Ebola vaccine was still 50 white people away. This was a jab at pharmaceutical companies, who, cynics think, will only set their R&D wheels in motion if there’s money on the horizon. Hundreds of poor Africans die? No drugs. Old rich men can’t have sex? All the drugs.
That’s not entirely true, of course. It does take a big pharmaceutical company to get a vaccine approved for use in humans, but drug companies aren’t evil—at least not irrationally so. They tend to throw resources into vaccine development if there’s a chance that they might recoup their investments. GlaxoSmithKline, for example, is already pretty far along in developing a vaccine for malaria.
But malaria kills a child every minute. Meanwhile, here’s a look at how many people die from Ebola compared with other deadly diseases:
Ebola’s on there, I promise. Ebola is horrifying, but it’s also sporadic.
Vaccines don’t work that well in fast-moving epidemics. Instead, we want a treatment. Chandran recently won an NIH grant to try to find an Ebola cure, and so far he’s isolated one protein that seems essential for the virus to be able to thrive in the body. People without this protein appear to be immune.