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Uganda gives go-ahead for Ebola vaccine

FILE PHOTO: A nurse working with the World Health Organization (WHO) shows a bottle containing Ebola vaccine at the town all of Mbandaka on May 21, 2018 during the launch of the Ebola vaccination campaign. – PHOTO AFP

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Uganda has given the World Health Organisation (WHO) a go-ahead to administer an investigational Ebola vaccine in high risk areas neighbouring  the DRC, where the outbreak has already claimed 170 lives.

Uganda will become the first country in the world to give the vaccine against Ebola without experiencing an active outbreak. The vaccine, is already being given out in the DRC.

“Considering the high risk that it could cross over from the DRC, Ugandan government officials have agreed to use the vaccine. The focus will be on the first ones who will see patients, or who will be involved in screening and burials,” Yonas Woldermariam, the World Health Organization Representative in Uganda told the BBC’s Patience Atuhaire in an interview.

Woldermariam told The BBC that 2,100 doses were already in the country, and they are looking to raise it to 3,000 doses, mainly for front-line health workers AND first responders against the dreaded disease. He hailed Ugandan officials for the high level of Ebola preparedness responses, that have included lobbying government support, surveillance and screening at entry points into the country.

This vaccine, although not commercially licensed, is being used under “expanded access” or what is also known as “compassionate use” in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in North Kivu, according to WHO. This vaccine was also used in the Ebola outbreak in Equateur in May-July 2018.

In 2015, the vaccine was given to more than 16,000 volunteers involved in several studies in Africa, Europe and the United States where it was found to be safe and protective against the Ebola virus.

“What is happening for Uganda is exemplary. They understand the risk, have mobilised govt to get prepared. However, community surveillance and awareness is most important for the community to  take necessary precautions,” Woldermariam said in the BBC interview.

More about the vaccine 

The investigational vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV, which has shown to be safe and protective against the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus, is recommended by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE)1 for use in Ebola outbreaks caused by the Zaire strain of the virus, in the event where there is no licensed vaccine. The vaccine consists of a vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), which is an animal virus that causes flulike illness in humans. The VSV has been genetically engineered to contain a protein from the Zaire Ebola virus so that it can provoke immune response to the Ebola virus.

Although several studies have shown that the vaccine is safe and protective against the Ebola virus, more scientific research is needed before the vaccine can be licensed. The vaccine is therefore being used on compassionate basis, to protect persons at highest risk of the Ebola outbreak, under a “ring vaccination” strategy, which is similar to the approach used to eradicate smallpox.

Persons who receive the vaccine may develop adverse effects following the vaccination. In the Ebola
vaccine study in Guinea in 2015, most adverse effects were typically mild. Vaccinated individuals most commonly reported headache, fatigue, muscle pain and mild fever, the WHO website stated.

Update from DRC – 170 dead

The Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed 170 lives,  AFP reported on Sunday. The health ministry said in a bulletin they had recorded 267 cases including 170 deaths.

Meanwhile, the DRC Ebola outbreak is not a global emergency ‘at this time’ WHO, said earlier.

“Based on the current context… the committee recommended that the current Ebola outbreak in DRC does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“I have accepted the recommendation of the committee,” he told reporters in Geneva following a meeting of the UN agency’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee.

In the WHO’s parlance, “a public health emergency of international concern” is an “extraordinary event” in which a disease may spread across borders and requires a vigorous international response.

Tedros stressed though that the decision not to use the label for the epidemic that has killed at least 139 people in DRC’s violence-torn North Kivu region since August “does not mean that WHO is not taking the outbreak seriously.”

The latest outbreak — the 10th in DR Congo since Ebola was first detected there in 1976 — emerged in the highly-restive northeastern region of North Kivu, which is home to a clutch of armed groups.
The area, near the Ugandan border, is also densely populated and nine neighbouring countries have been advised that they are at high risk of spread.




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