People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are fighting a deadly and growing Ebola epidemic, with 26 deaths and another 46 cases suspected or confirmed. It’s easy to fear the worst in this situation, especially after the world witnessed the massive West Africa Ebola crisis in 2014 that ultimately took over 11,000 lives. But something is different this time that can give us hope: more than 7,500 doses of an Ebola vaccine have been delivered to DRC this week.
An Ebola vaccine had been under development for years, but it was not yet available during the 2014 epidemic in West Africa. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance committed $300 million to speed up development of the vaccine to ensure it would be available should another crisis arise. At the beginning of 2016, an Ebola vaccine produced by Merck was found to have 100% efficacy in human trial and today, Gavi and Merck are working together to ensure that 300,000 investigational doses of the vaccine are available when an outbreak occurs.
In other words, people in DRC have access to the life-saving benefits of this vaccine (even while it is still undergoing licensing!) thanks to this breakthrough partnership.
Gavi is also working with the World Health Organization to ensure the vaccine can be delivered. For example, they are providing $1 million in operation costs to transport health workers to the communities most in need and to purchase cold chain equipment, which keeps the vaccines at the extremely low temperatures needed to be effective.
“The whole world is watching us and vaccination comes at the right time to block the progression of the disease,” said DRC Minister of Health, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga. “I thank our partners WHO, UNICEF, MSF and Gavi who have supported us since day one. Having vaccines available so quickly was only possible thanks to their mobilisation.”
— Seth Berkley (@GaviSeth) May 21, 2018
Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids. With this in mind, health workers are using a “ring vaccination” method that ensures anyone who comes in direct contact with an infected individual will receive the vaccine. This method, which was the same one used to eradicate smallpox, creates a shield of immunity and prevents more people from becoming infected. Ring vaccinations keep health workers and their patients safe, as well.
“Health workers will be the first to receive the vaccine today, as they are the ones most likely to be exposed to the Ebola virus,” said Dr. Berkley in the press release. “We all owe a debt of gratitude to the health workers risking their lives to prevent this disease from spreading further.”
This is an exciting and promising example of global health in action. With continued partnership and innovation, we have the chance to stop this Ebola epidemic in its tracks, and with hope, put an end to the long history of Ebola in the country and the region.