As Merck Ebola vaccine runs short in Congo, WHO looks to J&J experimental drug

World Health Organization (WHO)
As Ebola vaccines supplies run short during an outbreak in Congo, the World Health Organization is suggesting caregivers give smaller doses. (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

With an Ebola outbreak in Congo outrunning vaccination efforts to control it and the supplies of Merck’s Ebola vaccine on hand, the World Health Organization has revamped its plan of attack. It will give smaller vaccine doses and also use an experimental drug from Johnson & Johnson.

The WHO announced the measures this week as it discovered holes in its ring vaccination program thwarted efforts to track down and vaccinate all exposed people.

It said 111,000 people have been vaccinated in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the August 2018 outbreak, but the number of new cases continues to rise. In part, that is because incidents of violence have made it impossible for responders to identify and create vaccination rings around all of those at risk of contracting Ebola.

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WHO’s strategic advisory group has suggested that because supplies of the approved Merck vaccine are running short, the program should also include a J&J vaccine still under development. It said a coalition led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is "at an advanced stage towards the deployment and assessment of this vaccine.”

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, told Reuters the new strategy is the only hope as the outbreak reaches “a truly frightening phase."

“Without support for this new approach this epidemic could reach the scale of the terrible events in West Africa in 2013-2016,” he said.

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