The first 4,000 units of VSV-EBOV vaccine, the Ebola virus vaccine, landed in the Democratic Congo of the Republic (DRC) today.
Reuters reports that officials announced that vaccination will begin this weekend.
On Twitter, Peter Salama, MBBS, MPH, WHO deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response for the World Health Organization (WHO), shared a picture of the vaccines being unloaded from an Airbus 380 at the Kinshasa airport.
DRC Health Minister Oly Ilunga, MD also tweeted that the vaccines will be kept in special vaccine cold rooms in Kinshasa until they’re ready to be shipped to Mbandaka and Bikoro in the coming days.
The Merck-produced unlicensed vaccine will be used to squelch an Ebola virus outbreak currently ongoing in three health zones of the DRC. Health officials will use a ring vaccination strategy, giving the vaccine to close contacts of patients first.
Officials used the vaccine successfully in Guinea in 2014 during West Africa’s large Ebola outbreak, as part of a ring vaccination trial. The DRC approved use of the vaccine on Monday.
Yesterday, the WHO said participation in the ring vaccination will be voluntary, and that the WHO, along with officials from the DRC’s health ministry, and Medicins Sans Frontiers, are working out the logistics.
Initial tests positive on brothers in Mdbandaka
As of May 13, the WHO has reported a total of 41 cases and 20 deaths (case fatality rate of 48.8%), including 3 cases in healthcare workers. Of the 41 cases reported, 2 are confirmed, 17 are suspected, and 22 are probable.
According to a situation report posted yesterday, a total of 432 contacts are being monitored in the health zones of Bikoro (274), Iboko (115) and Mbandaka (43) as of Monday.
The WHO said Bikoro health zone had the highest number of suspected cases, with 31. Bikoro shares borders with the Republic of the Congo and is crossed by the Congo River.
The WHO also said two probable cases reported from Waganta health zone in the capital city of Mbandaka on May 11 are brothers who had been in Bikoro for a funeral, a known risk for contracting the virus. The two men tested positive for the virus on rapid tests, but confirmation polymerase chain reaction testing on their samples will be done at the national lab in Kinshasa.
Wanganta health zone is part of the of Mbandaka metropolitan area (population, 1.2 million, according to the WHO). Cases near a major city are a concern, as is the outbreak’s location.
According to a new risk assessment by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the current outbreak is the DRC’s ninth since Ebola was discovered in 1976. Last year, officials recorded 21 suspected cases Bas Uele province.
All cases in the current outbreak have been reported in remote and hard-to-reach areas, the ECDC assessment said, posing an extremely low risk to most Europeans living in or traveling through the DRC.
“Despite the fact that the outbreak is occurring in a remote area, the proximity to the Congo River increases the risk that the virus will spread to neighboring regions and countries,” the ECDC said.
May 15 Reuters story
May 14 WHO vaccine page
May 14 WHO Ebola situation report
May 15 ECDC risk assessment