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World Health Organization’s Ebola ring vaccination uses Merck & Co.’s investigational rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine to protect high-risk communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from Ebola.
On May 30, 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed it has begun a ring vaccination against Ebola in high-risk communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has been taking place in Mbandaka since May 21, 2018.
The investigational vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV (V920), was initially engineered by scientists from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory and subsequently licensed to a subsidiary of NewLink Genetics Corporation. In late 2014, when the peak of the Ebola outbreak in western Africa was at its worst, Merck & Co. licensed V920 from NewLink Genetics, with the goal of accelerating the development, licensure, and availability of the candidate vaccine, according to Merck.
Since licensing V920, Merck has worked closely with NewLink Genetics and a number of external collaborators to enable a clinical development program with funding from the United States government, including the Department of Health and Human Service’s Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority and the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Program/Joint Vaccination Acquisition Program (DTRA/JVAP) among others. Merck reports that there is ongoing additional research evaluating V920.
Merck is responsible for the research, development, manufacturing, and regulatory efforts associated with V920. The company has committed to working closely with other stakeholders to accelerate the continued development, production and, if licensed, distribution of the vaccine. V920 received breakthrough designation from FDA in July 2016.
WHO reports that the vaccine is being provided to the contacts of confirmed cases, the contacts of those contacts, healthcare workers, frontline responders, and others with potential exposure to Ebola. Gavi, the vaccine alliance, contributed funds towards operational costs and, through an agreement with Merck, allowed for 300,000 investigational doses of the vaccine to be available in the event of an outbreak. The ring vaccination is led by the National Institute of Biomedical Research and the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is working with a range of partners, including WHO, Médecins sans Frontières, and UNICEF.
This vaccination effort is also the result of collaboration between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Guinea. In March 2015, a ring vaccination trial took place in Guinea and found the vaccine to be highly effective against Ebola. Because of the results of the trial, the V920 vaccine has been approved for “compassionate use” in outbreaks. This means that although the vaccine has not yet been formally approved by a full regulatory process, there is no viable alternative, and it has proven sufficiently safe and effective to be recommended for use, as stated by WHO.
"Ring vaccination is a new and vital tool in the control of Ebola," said Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO assistant director-general, Emergency Preparedness and Response, in an organization press release. "I just spent the day out with the vaccination teams in the community, and for the first time in my experience, I saw hope in the face of Ebola and not terror. This is a major milestone for global public health."