The UK currently has three vaccines against the Ebola virus in the first phase of clinical trials, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told MPs.

“We have made some changes to speed up the process by which they can be used in the field, and DFID [the Department for International Development] has put in £1.34 million to establish a joint research fund with the Wellcome Trust, so we are making progress on that front,” headed, in a statement to the Commons yesterday on the UK’s Ebola preparedness and the care being given to Pauline Cafferkey, the UK nurse being treated for Ebola at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Mr Hunt was asked by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham about the availability of drugs to treat Ebola. “On treatment, we understand that Pauline is receiving an experimental drug, not ZMapp, due to a worldwide shortage.,” he said. When Mr Hunt had last updated MPs, Mr Burnham had asked him whether plans were in hand to increase supplies of ZMapp.

“So the latest news is a matter of concern,” said Mr Burnham, and he asked Mr Hunt: “are any efforts underway to increase manufacturing capacity for ZMapp and/or any other potential treatments?”

It has been “impossible” to get supplies of ZMapp – the drug given to the other Ebola patient treated in the UK, Will Pooley – because it is grown using genetically-modified tobacco plants, so there is a time constraint, Mr Hunt responded.

“Clinically, we do not yet know whether [ZMapp] was significant in Will Pooley’s recovery. We have tried other experimental treatments on Pauline Cafferkey, including using some of the plasma from Will Pooley, and we hope that will have an effect,” he told Mr Burnham.

Former Labour Health Minister Frank Dobson told the House that it is now several decades since Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), first identified Ebola, and that worldwide, not enough has been done to address the problems.

“We should not be looking for a vaccine now – it should have been looked for years ago,” said Mr Dobson, and he urged Mr Hunt to give full support to the rare disease consortium established by the LSHTM, Imperial College and the Royal Veterinary College - the London Centre for Neglected Tropical Disease Research - to look at infectious diseases that are capable of crossing from one species to another, and particularly at Ebola. 

- A review of how Ms Cafferkey caught the disease is being conducted by the charity Save the Children, in conjunction with Public Health England staff in Sierra Leone. Mr Hunt told the House he hoped to report within the next few days.