By Cecilia Ologunagba
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in partnership with other UN agencies and humanitarian organisations have announced the establishment of a global Ebola vaccine stockpile to help fight against the deadly virus.
WHO, in a statement posted on its website, announced that the vaccine stockpile would help to control future epidemics by ensuring timely access to vaccines for populations at risk during outbreaks.
Ebola virus disease is a severe and often fatal illness, with fatality rates varying from 25 per cent to 90 per cent. Thousands of people have lost their lives to the disease, since the virus was first discovered in 1976.
The statement quoted WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, as saying, “Ebola vaccines have made one of the most feared diseases on earth preventable.
“This new stockpile is an excellent example of solidarity, science and cooperation between international organisations and the private sector to save lives.”
Ghebreyesus, who underscored the importance of the vaccines to save lives from deadly viruses, said some agencies and organisations would take lead to establish the stockpile, with financial support from Gavi, the vaccine Alliance.
He listed them as the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision (ICG) which included WHO, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) the International Federation of Red Cross, Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
“The stockpile is stored in Switzerland, and vaccines are ready to be shipped to countries for emergency response.”
The statement also quoted UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, as saying, “we are proud to be part of this unprecedented effort to help bring potential Ebola outbreaks quickly under control.
“We know that when it comes to disease outbreaks, preparedness is key.
“This Ebola vaccine stockpile is a remarkable achievement – one that will allow us to deliver vaccines to those who need them the most as quickly as possible.’
“UNICEF, on behalf of ICG will manage the stockpile, and as with stockpiles of cholera, meningitis and yellow fever vaccines, will be the decision-making body for its allocation and release.”
As Ebola outbreaks are relatively rare and unpredictable, there is no natural market for the vaccine, and doses are only secured through the establishment of stockpiles and are available in limited quantities.
According to the UN agencies, an initial 6,890 doses are available for outbreak response and quantities will be added over the coming months to take the emergency stockpile to 500,000 doses, the amount recommended by health experts.
Partners MSF and IFRC, which have worked tirelessly to stop Ebola outbreaks, also hailed the stockpile establishment.
IFRC Secretary General, Jagan Chapagain recalled the devastating impact of Ebola on communities in West and Central Africa.
Chapagain said IFRC volunteers had risked their lives to save lives through each outbreak, saying “with this stockpile, it is my hope that the impact of this terrible disease will be dramatically reduced.”
Meanwhile, Natalie Roberts, Programme Manager at MSF Foundation, said that the Ebola vaccine stockpile could increase transparency in the management of existing global stocks and the timely deployment of the vaccine where it’s most needed.
According to the UN agencies, the injectable single-dose Ebola vaccine (rVSV∆G-ZEBOV-GP, live) is manufactured by Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD) Corp and developed with financial support from the U.S. Government.
The European Medicines Agency licensed the Ebola vaccine in November 2019, and the vaccine is now pre-qualified by WHO, and licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as in eight African countries.
Before achieving licensure, the vaccine was administered to more than 350,000 people in Guinea and in the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) under a protocol for “compassionate use”.
The vaccine, which is recommended by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunisation for use in Ebola outbreaks as part of a broader set of Ebola outbreak response tools, protects against the Zaire Ebolavirus species which is most commonly known to cause outbreaks. (NAN)