Why the long-awaited Ebola vaccine won’t end the Congo outbreak

Friday, July 26, 2019
By Paul Martin

By EMILY BAUMGAERTNER
LATimes.com
JULY 25, 2019

When Ebola broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a year ago, the global stockpile of a long-anticipated vaccine was 300,000 doses.

At the time, that seemed like plenty.

But as the virus spreads from the epicenter and threatens to explode across the region, the supply of Merck’s newly developed vaccine — once expected to function as a silver bullet — is dwindling, and likely to burn out before the outbreak does.

Officials have gone head-to-head in a bitter clash over the next line of attack. This week the country’s health minister stepped down rather than bow to international pressure to also start using another vaccine that is much more experimental.

He had banned its use over doubts about its effectiveness. The president, Felix Tshisekedi, was widely expected to lift the ban by the end of this week. The manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, says it has 1.5 million doses on hand and is ready to start sending them to the region.

Even if there were enough lifesaving vaccines to go around, the region’s violent conflict has made it virtually impossible for health workers to deliver the shots to every relative and neighbor of each Ebola victim.

“There’s a level of panic lurking just below the surface — or maybe it’s above the surface now,” said J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“No one imagined the level of violence in Ituri and North Kivu” — two eastern provinces — “would be so extensive that they wouldn’t be able to contain this. Now, vaccines have become that much more important in containing the outbreak,” he said.

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