With the number of Ebola cases remaining steady in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) applauds Johnson & Johnson for its recent vaccine donations and encourages the DRC government, World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations to continue to do all they can to help health workers gain trust within affected areas.
Johnson & Johnson announced last week that up to 500,000 doses of its investigational Ebola vaccine would be donated and utilized in an upcoming clinical study in the DRC. The vaccine, which was initially shelved, has now been given the go-ahead for its first use as early as next week.
“Vaccinations and the public’s trust go hand-in-hand, which is why having a sufficient stockpile of Ebola vaccines and treatment medicines on hand in country is essential. Building relationships within the community that allow for effective prevention and treatment strategies to be implemented is also crucial,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “We applaud and thank J&J for its Ebola vaccine donation, but we’re unfortunately a long way from completely ending this outbreak, given many communities’ unfounded mistrust of response personnel and the difficulty health care workers face in identifying and treating patients in remote areas.”
According to WHO, there has been a clear shift in the outbreak, as it has moved from densely populated urban areas to less populated rural areas, making it more difficult to identify and treat Ebola patients. A lack of trust of outsiders and continued attacks on health workers further exacerbate the situation. Just last week, Ebola screenings were halted at five checkpoints along the DRC-South Sudan border after three aid workers were killed in violent clashes.
Merck’s experimental Ebola vaccine has so far been the lone vaccine used in the current outbreak, as it requires only one dose and is over 97% effective after 10 days from being vaccinated. Conversely, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine requires two doses approximately eight weeks apart before gaining full efficacy, which is why it will be used near the outbreak but not in an area where active Ebola transmission is occurring.
In what is now the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, 3,274 cases have resulted in 2,185 deaths since August 2018. The DRC outbreak remains a public health emergency to bordering countries, the African continent and the world at large.