The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has authorised the World Health Organisation (WHO) to begin using an experimental Ebola vaccine in an effort to combat the latest outbreak.
According to Associated Press (AP), WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hopes health officials will be able to start using the vaccine later this week, or next week, should there be any delays in shipping. "We have agreement, registration, plus import permit - everything formally agreed already. And as you know, that vaccine is safe and efficacious and has been already tested. So I think we can all be prepared. All is ready now, to use it,” said Ghebreyesus.
The latest outbreak of Ebola was announced last week after health officials were first informed of deaths from haemorrhagic fever on May 3rd. At that point, there were 17 recorded deaths from haemorrhagic fever in the Congo’s Equateur province. As of May 13th, the DRC was dealing with 39 suspected, probable and confirmed cases of Ebola. According to WHO, there have been 19 deaths. Two cases have been formally confirmed as Ebola.
The DRC’s Ministry of Health has asked for 4,000 doses of the vaccine. Ministry spokesperson Jessyca Ilunga said the vaccines were expected to arrive by the end of the week. "The vaccination campaign starts next week. Everything depends on the logistics because the vaccine must be kept at minus 60 degrees Celsius and we need to assure that the cold chain is assured from Geneva to Bikoro," she said.
The vaccination campaign will focus on health workers first, especially since three of the suspected Ebola cases are nurses. One nurse has already died as a result of haemorrhagic fever.
The on-site teams have already identified more than 350 ‘contacts’. These are people who have come into contact with others suspected of being infected with haemorrhagic fever.
Ilunga said mobile laboratories were deployed to Mbandaka and Bikoro on Saturday. The results of the first 12 samples, tested in these mobile laboratories, should be ready on May 16th.
The new experimental vaccine was developed by the Canadian government and is now licensed to the US-based Merck corporation. It has been shown to be highly effective against the virus and was tested in Guinea in 2015. Although the Ebola virus in the Congo outbreak is a different strain, experts believe the experimental vaccine will be safe and effective.