The health authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have announced plans to introduce a second experimental Ebola vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, from mid- October.
WHO in a statement on Monday said the new vaccine will complement the current vaccine (rVSV-ZEBOV-GP), manufactured by Merck, which is being administered in the country.
An outbreak of Ebola in the DRC in August 2018 has killed over 2,000 people. Despite the best effort of health officials in the country, the outbreak has not been contained.
WHO introduced the first ever Ebola vaccine in the country earlier this year with appreciable success. The new vaccine manufactured by Johnson and Johnson is expected to complement the successes recorded by the one manufactured by Merck.
WHO said the vaccine will be administered under approved protocols to targeted at-risk populations in areas that do not have active Ebola transmission as an additional tool to extend protection against the virus.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus said the “DRC authorities, in deciding to deploy the second experimental vaccine to extend protection against this deadly virus, have once again shown leadership and their determination to end this outbreak as soon as possible.”
He said science is the drive for everything they do.
“The advice we were given by WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) in May has been applied, always taking into account community needs and preferences, as we know this will make the approach more effective. The changes made have saved thousands of lives in this outbreak,” he said.
Also, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said the “evaluation of the second Ebola vaccine will help ensure that we have potentially an additional tool to prevent the expansion of the outbreak and also a potential tool to protect populations before outbreaks hit areas at risk.”
She, however, said the Merck vaccine will continue to be provided to all people at high risk of Ebola infection including those who have been in contact with a person confirmed to have Ebola, all contacts of contacts, and others determined to be at high risk of contracting Ebola.
She said since the beginning of the outbreak in August 2018, over 223,000 people have received Merck vaccination.
The UN health agency said the introduction of the second experimental vaccine was in line with the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization recommendations as are a number of other innovations.
In May, SAGE reviewed use of vaccines in the ongoing Ebola outbreak and issued some recommendations.
These included adjusting the dose of the Merck vaccine, evaluating a second vaccine under appropriate protocols, changing strategies when insecurity makes it difficult to reach people – such as providing pop-up vaccination stations — and increasing the number of people vaccinated within communities with ongoing transmission, sometimes vaccinating whole villages.
Ms Moeti said there was nothing to be scared of because new therapeutics and better use of treatment protocols have also saved many lives.
“To date, 973 people have been successfully treated and released from Ebola treatment centres, and we expect that the 1000th survivor will return to his or her community in the coming weeks,” she said.
WHO said considering the current number of cases being reported and the doses required to vaccinate each case, the doses available of the rVSV-ZEBOV-GP vaccine are considered sufficient.
Ms Moeti said there are enough vaccine doses on the ground to meet the current needs, with WHO logisticians ensuring a minimum supply of 10,000 doses at all times, and overall supplies of the vaccine are being constantly monitored.
Merck has provided WHO with 245,000 doses for DRC and neighbouring countries and built a stockpile of 190,000 doses that are ready to send to DRC. Merck also aims to release 650,000 doses over the next six to 18 months under its replenishment strategy.
Under the current SAGE recommendations, this means that there are 390,000 doses currently and additional 1.3 million doses will be available.
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