In a major milestone in the fight against deadly diseases, United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners announced on Tuesday, the establishment of a global Ebola vaccine stockpile, to help control future epidemics by ensuring timely access to vaccines for populations at risk, during outbreaks.
Ebola virus disease is a severe and often fatal illness, with fatality rates varying from 25 per cent to 90 per cent. Thousands of people have lost their lives to the disease, since the virus was first discovered in 1976.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), underscored the importance of the vaccines to save lives from deadly viruses.
“Ebola vaccines have made one of the most feared diseases on earth preventable. This new stockpile is an excellent example of solidarity, science and cooperation between international organizations and the private sector to save lives.”
The International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision (ICG), which includes WHO, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), led efforts to establish the stockpile, with financial support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
The stockpile is stored in Switzerland, and vaccines are ready to be shipped to countries for emergency response.
Preparedness is key
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, said that when it comes to combatting disease outbreaks, “preparedness is key.”
“This Ebola vaccine stockpile is a remarkable achievement – one that will allow us to deliver vaccines to those who need them the most as quickly as possible,” she added.
UNICEF, on behalf of ICG will manage the stockpile, and as with stockpiles of cholera, meningitis and yellow fever vaccines, will be the decision-making body for its allocation and release.
As Ebola outbreaks are relatively rare and unpredictable, there is no natural market for the vaccine, and doses are only secured through the establishment of stockpiles and are available in limited quantities.
According to the UN agencies, an initial 6,890 doses are available for outbreak response and quantities will be added over the coming months to take the emergency stockpile to 500,000 doses, the amount recommended by health experts.
Important and positive milestone
Partners MSF and IFRC, which have worked tirelessly to stop Ebola outbreaks, also hailed the stockpile establishment.
IFRC Secretary General, Jagan Chapagain recalled the devastating impact of Ebola on communities in West and Central Africa, adding “through each outbreak, our volunteers have risked their lives to save lives. With this stockpile, it is my hope that the impact of this terrible disease will be dramatically reduced.”
Natalie Roberts, Programme Manager at MSF Foundation, said that the Ebola vaccine stockpile “can increase transparency in the management of existing global stocks and the timely deployment of the vaccine where it’s most needed.”
According to the UN agencies, the injectable single-dose Ebola vaccine (rVSV∆G-ZEBOV-GP, live) is manufactured by Merck, Sharp & Dohme (MSD) Corp. and developed with financial support from the US Government. The European Medicines Agency licensed the Ebola vaccine in November 2019, and the vaccine is now prequalified by WHO, and licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as in eight African countries.
Before achieving licensure, the vaccine was administered to more than 350,000 people in Guinea and in the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) under a protocol for “compassionate use”.
The vaccine, which is recommended by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization for use in Ebola outbreaks as part of a broader set of Ebola outbreak response tools, protects against the Zaire ebolavirus species which is most commonly known to cause outbreaks.