An MP from the east of the Democratic of Republic of Congo, where more than 1,700 people have died since the start of an Ebola outbreak nearly one year ago, says he does not want residents to be “guinea pigs” for a new vaccine.
Muhindo Nzangi Butondo comments come a day after former Heath Minister Oly Ilunga resigned, saying it was fanciful to think that another vaccine would have much impact on the control of current outbreak.
He argued the Ebola outbreak – the 10th in the country – was a public health emergency that should be coordinated by the government and warned against the risk of installing a parallel health system that he says isn’t going to build local capacities.
There are currently four experimental vaccines considered to tackle this outbreak: Merck & Co, Janssen (Johnson&Johnson), CanSino Biologics Inc, and Rospotrebnadzo.Only the Merck vaccine has been given approval from the DR Congo ethics committee.
While international charities and the World Health Organization (WHO) are pushing for the deployment of a second vaccine, some say it is not going to help control the outbreak and worry that it could confuse an already distrustful population.
Merck’s experimental vaccine has proven effective in 97.5% of cases and mounts protection against Ebola in about 10 days. Already 170,000 people have been inoculated.One of the issues raised by Ebola health workers is that the stock of Merck vaccine in the DR Congo is low – yet the outbreak is not under control, with about 75 to 100 new cases on average each week.
The Johnson&Johnson vaccine aims to give protection on the long term which is why some people are wondering if should be a priority.The vaccine needs to be administered two times in about two months apart. That might be difficult to do in a region where people often have to flee due to insecurity and are in general very mobile.
The company has recognized that it is a measure for times of peace and says the vaccine could for example be used outside of the conflict zones.But there are concerns that people could question why one vaccine is used in one place and another in a second place.
Communication around the Ebola response is key to build trust: nearly 200 health workers and facilities have been attacked since January according to the WHO.