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Marburg Springs Up in Africa One Week After NIAID Vaccine Touts Phase 1 Trial Results

In December of 2020, the outgoing Trump Administration's HHS issued an edict directing the development of Marburg treatments. Then-Secretary Alex Azar declared Marburg "a credible risk...[that] may in the future constitute a public health emergency."
Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: February 14, 2023
An NIAID-created Marburg Virus vaccine was hyped in The Lancet just weeks before the Marburg Virus outbreak in West Africa began.
Director General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Germany, on Feb. 16, 2022. An outbreak of the Marburg Virus has sprung up in West Africa, causing the WHO to call an emergency meeting of the Marburg Virus Vaccine Consortium (MARVAC). The news comes just weeks after an NIAID-created Marburg vaccine showed success in Phase 1 trials and was publicized in The Lancet. (Image: ANDRE PAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

An outbreak of the extremely dangerous Marburg Virus has appeared in Africa only a week after a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)-developed vaccine completed a Phase 1 study and was promoted in a top medical journal.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Equatorial Guinea, a small country that sits on the West coast of central Africa bordering Cameroon and Gabon, has experienced its first ever outbreak of Marburg, killing nine people, according to Reuters on Feb. 13.


Reuters reported that 200 people had been quarantined while the Kie-Ntem province was placed under a form of travel restriction lockdown as 16 suspected cases in total had been identified.

A press release by WHO Africa stated that only eight samples had been sent for laboratory testing, with only one positive result.

The WHO describes Marburg as “in the same family as the virus that causes Ebola virus disease,” and as a “highly virulent disease that causes haemorrhagic fever, with a fatality ratio of up to 88%.”

“Illness caused by Marburg virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and severe malaise. Many patients develop severe haemorrhagic symptoms within seven days,” the release added.

The WHO says that Marburg transfers to humans via fruit bats and “spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials.”

A Feb. 13 press release by the African Union’s CDC states that the outbreak was first detected on Feb. 7.

Reporting by The Telegraph on Feb. 14 stated that the number of people quarantined has quickly ballooned to 4,000 despite the suspected case count remaining at 16 and the death count remaining at 1.

The article quoted George Ameh, the WHO’s Equatorial Guinea representative, as remarking, “Surveillance in the field has been intensified.”

“Contact tracing, as you know, is a cornerstone of the response. We have…redeployed the Covid-19 teams that were there for contact tracing and quickly retrofitted them to really help us out,” Ameh added.

The timing is notable, as just one week earlier on Jan. 30, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) had announced in a media release on its website, “A newly published paper in The Lancet shows that an experimental vaccine against Marburg virus (MARV) was safe and induced an immune response in a small, first-in-human clinical trial.”

“The vaccine, developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, could someday be an important tool to respond to Marburg virus outbreaks,” the NIH added.

The vaccine, called cAd3-Marburg, works similarly to the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca COVID gene therapy vaccines in that it uses a sterilized adenovirus as a vector.

However, unlike the COVID vaccines, which deliver a double stranded DNA payload into human cells to cause them to grow the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 in an attempt to stimulate an immune response, cAd3-Marburg uses the adenovirus vector to “display[s] a glycoprotein found on the surface of MARV to induce immune responses against the virus.”

The NIH stated, “The trial’s safety results were encouraging: There were no serious adverse events, and the experimental vaccine was well-tolerated.” 

“One participant in the higher dose group developed a fever following vaccination, but it resolved by the following day,” they noted. 

And further added, “In addition, the investigational vaccine appeared to induce strong, long-lasting immunity to the MARV glycoprotein: 95% of participants in the trial exhibited a robust antibody response after vaccination, and 70% maintained that response for more than 48 weeks.”

The vaccine may have been created in response to a December of 2020 edict issued under the outgoing Trump Administration by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

“I have determined that Marburg disease and marburgviruses are a credible risk such that Marburg disease or marburgviruses may in the future constitute a public health emergency,” stated Secretary Alex Azar.

Azar was replaced by Xavier Beccera after Joe Biden took power in the 2020 Presidential Elections.

The order recommended the “the manufacture, testing, development, distribution, administration, and use” of “any antiviral, any other drug, any biologic, any diagnostic, any other device, or any vaccine, used to treat, diagnose, cure, prevent, or mitigate Marburg disease.”

A Feb. 14 article by The Washington Post on the outbreak clarified that unlike Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, Marburg Virus is not a respiratory illness.

“It is not an airborne disease. Instead, it spreads quickly between humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people such as blood, saliva or urine, as well as on surfaces and materials,” the article stated.

The Post added, “There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the Marburg virus,” noting that oral and intravenous rehydration and supplemental oxygen are the most common treatments.

Some drugs used in the treatment of Ebola can be administered, but have not been proven in clinical trials, the article added.

On Feb. 14, the WHO announced an emergency meeting of the Marburg Virus Vaccine Consortium (MARVAC) “to discuss vaccine and therapeutic candidates” in response to the outbreak.

However, in a “blueprint” presentation for vaccine candidates accompanying the announcement, cAd3-Marburg does not appear to be present.

However, eight vaccine candidates developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) are featured as candidates.

The presence of PHAC is notable after a husband and wife Chinese national virologist team, Qiu Xiangguo and Cheng Keding, employed at Canada’s biosecurity level 4 laboratory, the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, were removed from the facility by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2019 under investigation of a “possible policy breach.”

It wasn’t until May of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was well underway that more details on the story emerged as Canada’s establishment media began to clarify the subject because Qiu and Cheng became a target of speculation as the Internet and alternative media examined the Wuhan lab leak theory.

Thanks to Access to Information requests filed by Canada’s federally funded messaging outlet, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, it later became public knowledge that PHAC had kept the pair on the payroll until January of 2021.

Ultimately, the “policy breach” appears to have arisen after it was discovered that Qiu and Cheng had sent the Wuhan Institute of Virology, via the NML, 30 vials of live viruses, which included strains of Ebola, Nipah, and Hendra viruses.

Notably, the CBC discovered that during her time under leave from the NML, Qiu had added more than 30 scientific publications to her name, many of which involved Ebola and Marburg, and many of which conducted under joint funding and research with the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Liberation Army.

According to The Telegraph, based on data harvested from the WHO, the largest outbreak of Marburg ever recorded was in Angola in 2005. The event logged 374 cases and 329 deaths.