The World Health Organisation on Tuesday, November 12, prequalified the Ebola vaccine, Ervebo, paving the way for its use in high-risk countries such as DR Congo and its neighbours.
Prequalification, widely known as “pre-qual” means that the vaccine meets WHO standards for quality, safety and efficacy. UN agencies and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance committed to increasing access to immunisation in poor countries can now procure the vaccine for regions at risk of Ebola outbreaks.
WHO prequalifies Ervebo one day after the European Commission (EC) granted marketing authorisation to the vaccine. EC move came after a recommendation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
“The development, study, and rapid prequalification of this Ebola vaccine show what the global community can do when we prioritise the health needs of vulnerable people,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation,
The injectable vaccine has been shown to be effective in protecting people from the Ebola Zaire virus and is recommended by the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), says the organisation.
A major milestone in global health
Ervebo, scientifically known as rVSV-ZEBOV-GP is the first-ever Ebola vaccine to get WHO’s seal of approval, a historical turning point after more than two decades of research.
The vaccine has however not yet been licensed, but WHO is bolstering the process after publishing a roadmap to the vaccine’s licensing and roll-out in critical countries.
In the meantime, the vaccine will continue to be used under a research protocol or “compassionate use”, hence the licensed doses will only available in the third quarter of 2020.
A research conducted by Wellcome Trust in 2015 showed that Ervebo proved to be highly effective in combatting the deadly Zaire Ebola virus.
It also suggested that a single injection would be sufficient to protect a person from contracting Ebola, unlike Johnson & Johnson’s that requires two shots eight weeks apart.
The price of Ervebo is still unclear
StatNews reported that Merck, the vaccine’s owner has not yet set a price for Ervebo, but has made a commitment to make the vaccine available to countries eligible for purchasing assistance through Gavi at the lowest price possible.
However, the pharmaceutical company says it commits to continue donating the vaccine.
So far, eight vaccine candidates had been developed and evaluated through clinical trials.
The epidemic is waning
Current figures show that in DR Congo at least 3287 cases (3169 confirmed & 118 probable), including 2192 deaths, 1067 survivors, and patients still under care since the epidemic struck in May 2018.
The Congolese health authorities also report zero new cases and zero deaths on Monday, November 11, a major alert that the outbreak is waning.
The West Africa outbreak in 2014 is the largest and most catastrophic in history.
Approximately, 28,646 cases and 11,323 deaths were reported by March 27, 2016.
So far, more than 225,000 people have been vaccinated with Everbo in DRC. Moreover, the first batch of 500,000 doses of J&J’s Ebola vaccine will be inoculated tomorrow Thursday in Goma to complement Merck’s.
Rwanda takes measures
No case of Ebola has been reported in Rwanda but the government intensified preventive measures such as screenings on the Rwanda-Congo ports of entry and refugee camps, and development of Ebola Treatment centre in Rubavu District.
Over 3,000 health workers in the epidemic vicinities of Rwanda were administered with Ervebo vaccine, health facilities equipped and responsive drills conducted in hospitals of at-risk districts.
Ebola virus was first identified in Central Africa with 2 simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) separately in 1976, and then be named after the Ebola River in Zaire.
The virus has five distinct strains but the Zaire Ebola virus (EBOV) is the most dangerous subspecies which cause a high case fatality among human and non-human primates (NHPs).
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is, states the Ministry of Health, transmitted through blood and body fluids, including vomit, urine, saliva, sweat.
Symptoms include fever, fatigue, joint pain, headache, diarrhoea, skin rash, vomiting, red eyes, stomach-ache and bleeding through different body parts.