In Burundi, there have been no cases of Ebola infection. However, the vaccination exercise in the Democratic Republic of Congo has not been entirely successful. The main obstacle to achieving this is militia violence and local resistance to external help. The virus has killed over 1,800 people in DRC so far and there are still chances of spreading. So, to prevent the epidemic from entering the neighbouring country of Burundi, the Ministry of Public Health and AIDS control in Burundi started vaccinating its health workers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the vaccination exercise in Burundi began from the border with DRC. Burundi’s Ministry of Health vaccinated the health workers at the Gatumba border crossing point using the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine developed by the US pharmaceutical group Merck. The Burundian frontline health workers, especially those at the DRC border, are at a high risk of acquiring the virus. According to a statement by WHO, this vaccine is not yet approved, but it worked effectively during the West African Ebola outbreak.
“Although this vaccine is not yet approved and its commercial use is not yet authorized, it has been shown to be effective and safe during Ebola outbreaks in West Africa.”
“The vaccine is used for humanitarian purposes to protect people most at risk of an Ebola outbreak. It will be administered to health and front-line staff working in priority areas where there is a risk of transmission.”
The statement by WHO did not mention how many doses of Merck’s rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine would be available for the vaccination campaign. The vaccines alliance GAVI is providing financial support for this vaccination campaign.
The WHO representative in Burundi, Dr. Kazadi Mulombo mentioned that the vaccination of the front-line health workers in Burundi is in preparation for the response of the deadly hemorrhagic fever.
“The vaccination of health and frontline staff is a significant step forward in preparing for the response to this disease.”
Dr. Mulombo also spoke about Merck’s vaccine.
“The vaccine proved highly protective against Ebola in a trial conducted in Guinea in 2015. Pending consideration by the relevant regulatory authorities, the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization recommended that the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine be used as part of a protocol on expanded access and compassionate use during Ebola outbreaks related to the Zaire strain, such as the current one in the DRC. In Burundi, we will use it for prevention purposes.”
The other neighbouring country of Uganda has also been very cautious. This is especially after two people from the same family, a woman and her five-year-old grandson from DRC, died of Ebola in Uganda. There were reports that a third member of the family died later after going back home. Recently, Uganda began its largest-ever trial of the second experimental Ebola vaccine. US drugmaker Johnson and Johnson in association with the Danish biotech Bavarian Nordic are developing the vaccine.
In DRC, 170,000 people, especially frontline health workers, have already taken the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine. The Ministry of Health in Burundi is working together with WHO in the vaccination campaign.