Merck preps big shipment of Ebola vaccine amid deadly Congo outbreak: report

The World Health Organization reports more than 400 people have died due to the Ebola outbreak in Congo. (Courtesy of FishInWater under Creative Commons)

As the world’s second-deadliest Ebola outbreak stretches on in Congo, vaccine giant Merck is prepping to ship another 120,000 doses to aid officials combating the virus, a company representative said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Merck’s associate vice president Lydia Ogden said the company is planning the shipment on top of approximately 100,000 doses Merck has already shipped to the World Health Organization, the Associated Press reports

Congo’s health ministry designated the outbreak last August; so far, the outbreak has grown to 689 cases and caused more than 400 deaths, according to the WHO. Officials have already vaccinated more than 60,000 people with Merck’s as-yet-unapproved vaccine, the agency said. 

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In one positive development, Stat reports a WHO official believes the agency will have enough vaccine supply to fight the outbreak "unless something very dramatic changes."  

Merck licensed its Ebola vaccine from NewLink Genetics amid the deadly 2014 Ebola outbreak in western Africa and accelerated development in response to that emergency. In all, more than 11,000 people died in that outbreak.

RELATED: With outbreak spreading, WHO worries Merck's Ebola shot may run scarce 

Now, Merck is ready to seek FDA approval for its vaccine. Under an FDA breakthrough tag, Merck started a rolling submission for its shot in November; the company expects to finish the process this year. The vaccine hasn’t yet won international approvals, but vaccine advisers for WHO have recommended its use to combat outbreaks when no licensed vaccines are available.  

Officials used Merck’s vaccine in a previous, smaller outbreak in Congo last year, and in July, WHO reported that the outbreak had “largely been contained.” Only days later, however, a new outbreak sprung up in a war-torn region. Rebel attacks and poor infrastructure have made it tougher for officials to combat the ongoing outbreak, the AP reports.  

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