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The 2013–2016 West African Ebola outbreak was both a catastrophic public health disaster and a rare research opportunity. This paper analyses how the tensions between the humanitarian imperatives of disease control and the epistemic conventions of bioscientific inquiry played out in the accelerated development, testing and licensure of Ebola vaccines. Beginning with the epidemiological projections of the disease’s spread, the paper develops the notion of evidentiary charisma to capture the power of experimental designs and data packages to marshal public health salience, recruit moral legitimacy and short-circuit scientific contestation. Attention to the charismatic dimensions of Ebola vaccine R&D helps to unpick the simultaneous appeals to exception and convention in the unfolding of a global health crisis, and to trace the normative and technical contours of the emerging paradigm of emergency research.

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