Goma, DR Congo | AFP | Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo Thursday introduced a second vaccine to fight the deadly Ebola virus in the east of the country, the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity said.
It said the new vaccine, produced by a Belgian subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, is aimed at protecting about 50,000 people over a period of four months.
More than 250,000 people in the region have already been received doses of another anti-Ebola vaccine since last year.
DR Congo declared an Ebola epidemic in August 2018 in the conflict-wracked eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
The highly contagious haemorrhagic fever has so far killed 2,193 people, according to the latest official figures.
Efforts to roll back the epidemic have been hampered not only by fighting but also by resistance within communities to preventative measures, care facilities and safe burials.
Health workers battling Ebola have been attacked 300 times, leaving six people dead and 70 wounded since the start of the year, the country’s health minister said earlier this month.
Early Thursday, about 15 people received an injection in one of two MSF centres in the North Kivu capital of Goma, a spokeswoman for the charity said.
– Two-dose vaccine –
MSF said in a statement on Tuesday that those receiving the first dose of the new vaccine would be asked to return to complete the process.
It said launching the programme in Goma would allow authorities “to check on the success of the two-dose vaccination in a city of one million people, in a region with a mobile population and where there have been cases in the past”.
At least two Ebola cases have been registered in Goma in July and August.
But the epicentre of the disease is about 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Goma in the Beni-Butembo region.
It is the DRC’s 10th Ebola epidemic and the second deadliest on record after an outbreak that struck West Africa in 2014-16, claiming more than 11,300 lives.
The new J&J vaccine had initially been rejected by DRC’s former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.
But Ilunga’s resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.