GENEVA — A public–private global health partnership announced on Thursday it will invest US$178 million to establish an emergency stockpile of 500,000 Ebola vaccine doses worldwide in an effort to prevent future outbreaks of the devastating disease.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said the global emergency stockpile will be available to countries for outbreak response and prevention through its new Ebola vaccine program between now and 2025. Nations with low to modest incomes can receive vaccines free of charge, but wealthier ones must pay.
The Geneva-based international organization also said it will support “targeted preventative vaccination outside of an outbreak in high-risk populations, such as health workers, in countries at risk” based on future recommendations from a World Health Organization, or WHO, expert panel.
As a public-private partnership, Gavi works closely with WHO, UNICEF, World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It also works with donor and recipient governments, research agencies, other organizations and professional associations, and businesses, including vaccine manufacturers.
“This is a historic milestone in humanity’s fight against this horrific disease. Just five years ago we faced an Ebola outbreak in West Africa with no vaccine and no way to treat the disease,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a development economist and former World Bank managing director who chairs Gavi’s board and sits on Twitter’s board.
“Today, thanks to the heroic efforts of countless patients, health workers, scientists, manufacturers, donors, partners as well as the leadership of African countries, we now have one vaccine approved for use and more on their way, as well as rapid diagnostics and several promising treatments,” she said in a statement. “With these tools at our disposal, the battle against Ebola can be won, and I’m proud of the role Gavi has played in this.”
More than 255,000 doses of a recently licensed Ebola vaccine named Ervebo that is made by Merck have been used so far in Congo since its most recent Ebola outbreak was declared on August 1, 2018.
There have been 3,200 confirmed Ebola cases, including more than 2,200 deaths, in what has now become the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. West Africa’s Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016, the largest such epidemic ever, killed more than 11,000 people.
In July, WHO decided that Congo’s Ebola outbreak should be treated as an international health emergency, marking a major shift in strategy after the virus reached a city of 2 million people.
That declaration came just days after a single case was confirmed in Congo’s northeastern city of Goma, near the Rwandan border, where the United Nations has long shuttled officials in and out of the city’s international airport and erected displacement and refugee camps on the city’s outskirts.
WHO welcomes @gavi Board's decision to fund a global stockpile of #Ebola vaccines and extend support for #malaria vaccine pilots. This is a remarkable advance for public health. https://t.co/qTVolezGDb pic.twitter.com/kcRJWj1xOe
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) December 5, 2019
A call for ‘complete transparency’
Similar global emergency vaccine stockpiles are used by international organizations such as WHO, UNICEF, Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, and International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, to prevent future outbreaks of cholera, meningitis and yellow fever in developing nations.
The response to the Ebola outbreak, however, also is hampered by political instability, conflicts, dense populations and public mistrust of Ebola services. Armed attackers have targeted doctors and vaccination teams and harassed families of health workers, apparently mistrustful of outsiders.
WHO has warned that the attacks on Ebola clinics and health workers jeopardize containment and prevention efforts. And, despite a public campaign to use more of the Ebola vaccine in Congo, the outbreak remains a serious public health concern there, prompting MSF to call for the creation of an international, independent committee to oversee the country’s Ebola vaccinations.
Jason Nickerson, MSF’s humanitarian affairs adviser, said such a committee would help ensure “transparency and good governance” in how the vaccine stockpile is used to respond to outbreaks. “Gavi’s announcement that it will finance the establishment of an emergency stockpile of 500,000 doses of Ebola vaccine is a positive step,” Nickerson said in a statement.
“As additional emergency stockpiles are in the process of being established, including in the United States,” he said, “there is also an urgent need to have a mechanism guaranteeing that all national stockpiles can be swiftly pooled in case they are needed to broaden response capacity at a global level in any future outbreaks.”