High-risk health workers can get routine Ebola vaccine, says Gavi


By Jennifer Rigby

LONDON (Reuters) – A global stockpile of Ebola vaccines can be used to protect frontline health workers in high-risk countries routinely, rather than just as an emergency measure during outbreaks, international vaccine group Gavi said on Thursday.

A stockpile of half-a-million Ebola vaccine doses was established by Gavi and other global health partners in 2019 for use in outbreaks of the haemorrhagic fever, which has an average fatality rate of roughly 60%. Around 11,000 people died in a 2014-16 outbreak in West Africa, the largest ever.

But while highly deadly, outbreaks of Ebola are relatively rare. Around 208,000 doses of the stockpiled Ervebo vaccine, made by Merck, are set to expire this year if unused.

Some countries have already had doses shipped to them for preventative campaigns, including Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Now Gavi says it will fund this use routinely for high-risk countries, including transport and vaccination costs, after the World Health Organization last month recommended using Ervebo in this way.

The WHO also backed preventative use for high-risk groups of the other Ebola vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson with a booster dose made by Bavarian Nordic. This vaccine is not currently held in the stockpile. Both vaccines target the Ebola Zaire strain of the virus, rather than the Sudan strain that caused an outbreak in Uganda in 2022.

Gavi chief executive Sania Nishtar said the stockpile had already helped cut down Ebola cases and deaths during outbreaks and could now protect those at highest risk from this “terrible disease that can lay waste to whole communities”.

Gavi also said that it would support lower-income countries to add a number of other vaccines in their routine programmes.

These included introducing a dose of the hepatitis B vaccine at birth, a new vaccine protecting against five strains of meningococcal meningitis, and the use of the rabies vaccine for protection post-exposure. The plans, including for preventative Ebola vaccination, were all signed off by Gavi’s board before COVID-19 but delayed by the pandemic and other factors.

(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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