Health workers most at risk of contracting of Ebola to be vaccinated

Anne Gulland
A child receives the Ebola vaccine  - REUTERS

A stockpile of Ebola vaccine is to be set up for use in emergencies and for protecting front-line health workers in countries which are susceptible to outbreaks.

At its latest board meeting Gavi, the not-for-profit organisation that supports developing countries’ vaccination programmes, has said it will set aside an estimated $178 million for a stockpile of around 500,000 doses of vaccine.

The vaccine will be made available free of charge to countries receiving Gavi assistance. Gavi will also help countries with the cost of setting up and running a vaccination campaign.

Countries that are not eligible for Gavi support will also be able to access the stockpile, which will be held by the manufacturers, but at a cost.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, chair of the Gavi board, said: “This is a historic milestone in humanity’s fight against this horrific disease. Just five years ago we faced an Ebola outbreak in West Africa with no vaccine and no way to treat the disease. 

“Today, thanks to the heroic efforts of countless patients, health workers, scientists, manufacturers, donors, partners as well as the leadership of African countries, we now have one vaccine approved for use and more on their way,” she said.

The vaccine, produced by Merck, was first used in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the summer of 2018 when it was widely credited with bringing that Ebola outbreak to a swift close.

Since then more than 250,000 people have received the vaccine in the current Ebola outbreak which authorities have been struggling to control since August 2018 and which has claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Gavi will also provide preventive vaccines for people at high risk of contracting the disease, such as health workers, in countries that are likely to see an outbreak of Ebola. 

Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, said that on current estimates it is likely that around 10 per cent of health workers in countries that could face an Ebola outbreak would be vaccinated in advance.

The vaccine has already been used on health workers in countries bordering DRC in the event of the disease crossing the border. 

“The first priority is to have a stockpile available for use in an outbreak. Given the vaccine is not yet licensed it will take some time for these doses to build up,” said Dr Berkley.

He added: “The WHO advisory mechanism will look at which are the appropriate populations for preventive vaccination. In this DRC outbreak we have gone out and vaccinated front line health workers in Uganda, South Sudan and Burundi.

"Other countries will be included but we haven’t decided yet. The obvious choice would be countries with independent transmission of Ebola from animal to human. We could also consider countries that have had transmission of Ebola through travellers.” 

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