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Why the Long-Awaited Ebola Vaccine Won't End the Congo Outbreak (Los Angeles Times)

July 25, 2019

From the article:

"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 life-saving 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...

Last week, it did. The outbreak reached Goma, less than a mile from the Rwandan border, prompting officials to declare the epidemic an emergency of international concern. From the bustling city of 2 million people, flights, ferries and buses fan out across central Africa.

Almost immediately, Tshisekedi, the president, consolidated executive control over the outbreak response.

In his resignation letter, the health minister wrote that it was 'fanciful to think that the new vaccine proposed by actors who have shown an obvious lack of ethics' could have a meaningful impact on containing the outbreak.

But scientists welcomed the opportunity to test the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

'The only way to get the key data is to test it in large numbers of the population, and see how it stacks up against the virus,' said Carleigh Krubiner, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington.

'We could have another vital tool in our toolbox for future outbreaks — we just don’t know yet...'"

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