In a statement, Atkins said that she felt "absolutely fine" after receiving what is currently known as the NIAID/GSK vaccine, after the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
"I volunteered because the situation in West Africa is so tragic and I thought being part of this vaccination process was something small I could do to hopefully make a huge impact," she said. "I first heard about the trial while driving home from work when Professor Hill was interviewed on BBC Radio Oxford and asked for volunteers to come forward."
The study is being led by professor Adrian Hill of the Jenner Institute at Oxford. The trial is a companion to the one being conducted in the United States at the National Institutes of Health; that one began last week. In the NIH study, half of the 20 participants have received the vaccine and so far "no red flags" have been reported to indicate adverse effects.
The vaccine was developed by GlaxoSmithKline in conjunction with the NIH. And it uses a strain of a chimpanzee cold virus called chimp adenovirus type 3 to deliver the benign genetic material of the Zaire strain of Ebola. The genetic material delivered to the patient isn't able to replicate and poses no health risk, but it is intended to prompt the immune system to kick in.
The trials are intended to first demonstrate that the vaccine is safe for use in humans, and they will be followed by larger clinical trials.
GSK is producing 10,000 doses of the vaccine while the human trials are underway so that if it is deemed safe, those vaccines can be deployed in the current West African outbreak.
"These are initial safety trials of the vaccine and it will be some time before we know whether the vaccine could protect people against Ebola," Oxford's Hill said in a statement. "But we are optimistic that the candidate vaccine may prove useful against the disease in the future."
Others have cautioned, though, that in order to determine whether the vaccine works in humans, it needs to be tested in West Africa.
“There is clearly a need for this vaccine, but what is not clear is whether it will work well enough to protect someone from Ebola," said Ben Newman, a virologist at the University of Reading. "This vaccine uses some of the best available technology to give the immune system a good long look at its target -- a small but vitally important part of the virus. However we won't really be able to tell whether the vaccine works until it is tested on the ground in West Africa."
He added that "two trials with HIV vaccines that used very similar vaccine technology have recently failed, despite promising initial results."
The vaccine would be used to inoculate people who are at risk of contracting Ebola, preventing them from falling ill with the deadly disease if they become exposed. It is different from experimental treatments such as ZMapp, which are intended to treat people who are already infected with Ebola. ZMapp contains anti-bodies that attach to the Ebola virus and prevent it from replicating in the sick person.