Global Ebola vaccine stockpile announced to fight future outbreaks

A child receives an Ebola vaccine in Beni, Congo, 2019. (AP Photo / Jerome Delay)

UN agencies and partners who make up the International Coordinating Group (ICG) on Vaccine Provision aim to ensure quick and effective responses to outbreaks of the disease.

A global Ebola vaccine stockpile to help control future outbreaks has been announced by leading international health and humanitarian organisations.

Revealed today by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), with financial support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the stockpile aims to enable countries to contain and control future Ebola epidemics.

The initiative will ensure timely access to vaccines for populations most at risk from the disease, which has an average fatality rate of 50 per cent - though this can rise to 90 per cent during some epidemics, according to WHO. During the most severe outbreak of Ebola in West Africa from 2014-2016 a total of 28,616 cases and 11,310 deaths were recorded in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“We know that when it comes to disease outbreaks, preparedness is key,” said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, which will manage the stockpile and be responsible for its allocation. “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.”

Low and middle-income countries will have access to the stockpile for free and receive support for rolling-out vaccination programmes. It will be reserved to protect high-risk groups during outbreaks, including healthcare and frontline workers.

The vaccine which will be used was approved by the European Medicines Agency at the end of November, and is licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in eight African countries. It was administered to over 350,000 people in the most recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from 2019-2020, helping bring the crisis to an end by June 2020.

The stockpile of 500,000 vaccines will be stored in Basel in Switzerland ready for shipment to countries in emergency response in the case of outbreaks. Ebola epidemics are rare yet unpredictable and availability of vaccines is limited, making such stockpiles the most effective means of emergency response.

“Ebola vaccines have made one of the most feared diseases on earth preventable,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. “This new stockpile is an excellent example of solidarity, science and cooperation between international organisations and the private sector to save lives.”