Saturday December 7, 2019

Ebola Vaccine Approved in Europe in Landmark Moment

The next step, prequalification by the World Health Organization, is expected within days

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Ebola, Vaccine, Europe
FILE - Congolese Health Ministry officials carry the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 16, 2018. VOA

This week the European Commission gave approval to a Ebola vaccine — an act that the World Health Organization calls landmark moment for global health and a likely game-changer in the battle against this deadly disease.

This is the first time an Ebola vaccine has been licensed anywhere in the world.  The next step, prequalification by the World Health Organization, is expected within days.

Prequalification means WHO is satisfied with the vaccine’s quality, safety and effectiveness.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier tells VOA this is an important step and a great achievement for public health.

Ebola, Vaccine, Europe
This is the first time an Ebola vaccine has been licensed anywhere in the world. Wikimedia Commons

“This will speed up any further process of getting a vaccine into a country for licensing, for manufacturing, for having more quantity of the vaccine whenever we need it or ahead of a presumed outbreak in order to vaccinate health care workers and first-line responders to have them ready for the battle against Ebola,” said Lindmeier.

The vaccine, in its experimental stage, has been and continues to be used in the ongoing Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  It has been used to protect more than 250,000 people in the DRC’s Ituri and North Kivu provinces.

Lindmeier says WHO has developed a roadmap aimed at accelerating prequalification and licensing of the vaccine.  This will enable the agency to quickly roll out the vaccine in high risk countries in Africa.

“What does this mean right now for the Democratic Republic of Congo?  Right now, nothing will change because the vaccines as they are available will be used… But it is absolutely great news to see that this has now been approved and will be prequalified,” said Lindmeier.

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Lindmeier says there likely will be a higher demand for Ebola vaccine in coming years.  He says WHO is working with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the United Nations Children’s Fund and other partners to develop a Global Ebola Vaccines Security Plan to fulfill growing needs and to ensure vaccine security. (VOA)

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Vaccine Alliance GAVI to Invest $178 Million to Create Global Stockpile Ebola Vaccines

Vaccine group announce creation of ebola vaccine stockpile

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Vaccine
There are similar stockpiles for vaccines against yellow fever, meningitis and cholera. Pixabay

The vaccine alliance GAVI announced Thursday it would invest $178 million to create a global stockpile of about 500,000 Ebola vaccines, a decision that health officials say could help prevent future outbreaks from spiraling out of control.

The public-private partnership includes the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank, among others. The funding announcement was made after a meeting of GAVI’s board. GAVI said the investment, which it called an estimate, will be provided between now and 2025.

Since the current outbreak in eastern Congo was identified last August, health officials have immunized more than 255,000 people with a recently licensed vaccine made by Merck. To date there have been nearly 3,200 confirmed Ebola cases, including more than 2,200 deaths, in what has become the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, chair of Gavi’s board, called the creation of the Ebola vaccine stockpile a “historic milestone in humanity’s fight against this horrific disease.” GAVI said “a coordinating mechanism” to decide how and when vaccines will be used will be established with partner organizations.

There are similar stockpiles for vaccines against yellow fever, meningitis and cholera. Those limited shots are doled out to developing countries by WHO, UNICEF, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders after receiving technical advice from others.

Ebola Vaccine Stockpile
A healthcare worker from the World Health Organization prepares vaccines to give to front line aid workers, in Mbandaka, Congo. VOA

The Ebola vaccine stockpile will be available to all countries, but only developing countries will be able to get vaccines for free in addition to support for the logistical costs of mounting vaccination campaigns.

Jason Nickerson, a humanitarian affairs adviser at Doctors Without Borders, said the new stockpile would change how officials respond to future Ebola outbreaks.

“Knowing how many doses of the vaccine exist in the world, and then being able to get a supply of them to high-risk countries in a very quick way, gives us another tool to respond to these outbreaks,” he said.

Earlier this year, the medical charity publicly called for an independent committee to oversee Ebola vaccination efforts in Congo, saying WHO sometimes used arbitrary criteria to determine who would get immunized. It said the fact that Ebola was continuing to spread despite the large number of people vaccinated was a damning assessment of the response.

Containing this outbreak has been complicated by violence and misunderstandings in a part of Congo that had never reported an Ebola case before.

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Last week, response activities were suspended after attacks killed four Ebola responders, including a member of a vaccination team. Multiple rebel groups operate in eastern Congo and the region has been described as a war zone.

WHO has warned continued attacks on health workers and Ebola clinics could undermine attempts to curb Ebola and prompt a resurgence of the disease. (VOA)