Ebola Vaccinations Begin as Congo Races to Tackle Disease

(Bloomberg) -- Ebola vaccinations began in the northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo, where an outbreak of the disease has claimed 26 lives, the World Health Organization said.

Health workers in affected areas are receiving the first vaccines, the Geneva-based organization said Monday in a statement. There were 49 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola in Equateur province as of May 19, WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response Peter Salama said on Twitter.

Of 22 confirmed cases, 18 are centered around the remote rural of town of Bikoro, while four have been identified in Mbandaka, a provincial capital of 1.2 million people.

More than 7,500 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine, dispatched by the WHO and donated by the treatment’s manufacturer, Merck & Co., arrived last week in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. The vaccine needs to be kept at between minus 60 and 80 degrees Celsius in a part of the world where electricity is highly unreliable.

The WHO has sent special vaccine carriers to Mbandaka and Bikoro where it has set up freezers to store the doses, according to the statement. The vaccine was trialed successfully in Guinea in 2015 during a major outbreak which killed more than 11,000 people and Congo’s government has authorized its use to contain what’s the country’s ninth recorded outbreak.

The Health Ministry, the WHO and their partners have so far identified more than 600 people to be immunized as part of a “ring vaccination” strategy. In addition to health workers, contacts of confirmed cases, as well as contacts of contacts, will be offered the vaccination, the WHO said.

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