Funded with $20m, Ebola vaccine stockpile set up to fight future outbreaks
Ebola vaccine stockpile set up to fight future outbreaks
Published: Jan 12, 2021 05:03 PM

A worker from the World Health Organization (WHO) decontaminates the doorway of a house where two cases of Ebola were found, in the village of Mabalako, Congo on Monday. Health officials have begun offering vaccinations to all residents in Mabalako. Previous efforts had only targeted known contacts or those considered to be at high risk. Photo: IC

A global emergency stockpile of 500,000 Ebola vaccine doses will be created to respond quickly to future outbreaks, the vaccine alliance Gavi said on Tuesday.

Low- and lower middle-income countries will be able to access the stockpile free of charge, Gavi said, and will also get support for the operational costs of rolling out an immunization program.

More than 300,000 people were vaccinated during outbreaks of the deadly virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which helped bring the two-year crisis to a halt in June 2020.

"By creating a stockpile of 500,000 doses of the Ebola vaccine, available to all countries, we can help prevent loss of life and swiftly end Ebola outbreaks in the future," said Gavi chief executive Seth Berkley.

The doses will be stored in Basel in Switzerland.

A public-private partnership, the Geneva-based Gavi helps vaccinate half of the world's children against some of the deadliest diseases on the planet.

Along with the World Health Organization, it is coleading efforts to procure and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to 20 percent of the population in each country by the end of 2021.

Development of the Ebola vaccine was sped up following the worst-ever epidemic, which started in December 2013 in Guinea and spread to West African neighbors Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The outbreak claimed more than 11,300 lives from nearly 29,000 registered cases, according to the WHO, which declared the epidemic over in March 2016.

The sped-up vaccine process, which involved agreements between Gavi and the manufacturer, "set a precedent for fast-tracking development and production of vaccines against COVID-19," said Berkley.

The average fatality rate from Ebola is around 50 percent but this can rise to 90 percent for some epidemics, says the WHO.

The symptoms are severe: high fever and muscle pain followed by vomiting and diarrhea, skin eruptions, kidney and liver failure, internal and external bleeding.

The Ebola vaccine stockpile will include licensed doses manufactured by US pharmaceutical multinational Merck, which has pre-qualification status from the WHO, plus approval from the US and European regulators. Those deliveries are being funded with $20 million from the US Agency for International Development.

A Gavi spokeswoman told AFP it would take "a few years" to reach the 500,000 target, and the doses will need replenishing over time.