Congo to Deploy Experimental Ebola Vaccine to Contain Outbreak

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo plans to begin deploying an experimental Ebola vaccine to treat an outbreak of the disease in the country, the Health Ministry said.

The ministry received an air consignment of 4,000 doses of the treatment in the capital, Kinshasa, on Wednesday, ministry spokeswoman Jessica Ilunga said in a mobile-phone text message. The vaccine was developed by Merck & Co. and dispatched from Geneva by the World Health Organization, she said.

Congo confirmed its latest Ebola epidemic, the ninth since the disease was first recorded in the central African nation in 1976, on May 8, when two patients suspected of carrying the virus tested positive. The ministry reported 42 suspected cases of Ebola on May 15. Of the 20 people considered probable carriers, 18 have died.

The outbreak is centered around the remote town of Bikoro in the province of Equateur, while samples have been taken from two suspected cases in Mbandaka, the provincial capital that’s home to about 1 million residents.

The so-called VSV-EBOV vaccine is still unlicensed, but was trialled successfully in Guinea during an epidemic in West African that killed more than 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016. Congo’s government authorized the use of the vaccine last week.

The doses will be stored at a facility in Kinshasa until the ministry and the WHO are sure the vaccine can be transported to Mbandaka and Bikoro -- and kept there -- at a sufficiently low temperature, Ilunga said. Electricity supply in the region is unreliable.

The ministry hopes to launch a targeted vaccination campaign by the weekend, Ilunga said, which will initially focus on individuals, including health workers, who have been in contact with the two confirmed cases. So far, more than 500 people have been identified.

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