A vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in Congo began on Monday in the port city of Mbandaka, where four cases of the deadly disease have been confirmed.
Use of the VSV-EBOV shot – an experimental vaccine developed by Merck – marks a “paradigm shift” in how to fight Ebola, said the World Health Organization’s head of emergency response, and means regions with Ebola outbreaks can in future expect more than just containment of an outbreak with basic public health measures such as isolation and hygiene.
The shot is designed for use in so-called ring vaccination plans. When a new Ebola case is diagnosed, all people who might have been in recent contact with the patient are traced and vaccinated to keep the disease from spreading.
It’s the first time in the midst of an outbreak … that we’re using this as a way to stem transmission,” WHO’s Peter Salama said in a telephone interview. “It’s an important moment that changes the way we’ve seen Ebola for 40 years.”
The same strategy was used to test Merck’s vaccine in Guinea in late 2015, towards the end of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2013 to 2016. The trial results showed it was safe and gave very high levels of protection against Ebola.
Around 30 Guinean health workers who were directly involved in that 2015 vaccine trial have traveled to Congo and will help with the immunisations there, Salama said.
Ebola causes hemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhea and spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. More than 11,300 people died in the West Africa epidemic.