- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The World Health Organization on Tuesday said 400 people have been vaccinated against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there hasn’t been an explosion of cases, making officials “cautiously optimistic” about the arc of the outbreak.

Health response teams have reached over 90 percent of the people recorded as having some type of link to infected persons in the city of Mbandaka, which officials have characterized as an unusually high rate of response.

Authorities have been worried that the city of more than 1 million people, nestled along the Congo River, could serve as a springboard for the deadly disease to spread, but expressed optimism Tuesday about the vaccination process.

“The vaccine is proving to be a very acceptable intervention to the community in Mbandaka,” said Peter Salama, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief. “In fact, there [are] no reports of a refusal of the vaccination.”

Responders are now turning to the remote Democratic Republic of Congo areas of Bikoro and Iboko, which served as the starting points for the latest outbreak. “That’s where the next phase of the vaccination must go,” Mr. Salama told reporters Tuesday during a press conference webcast from Geneva, Switzerland.

He said the number of overall cases in the African nation is holding relatively steady, with the latest revised count standing at 54 cases and 25 deaths tied to the outbreak.

“We have reason to be cautiously optimistic,” Mr. Salama said. “We haven’t seen an explosive increase in cases.”

He also said responders are set to use five therapeutic drugs for Ebola in the region, pending approval from DRC authorities.

The drugs are not registered yet, so they must be given under the umbrella of a clinical trial, which includes an ethical review and the “informed consent” of recipients.

Ebola is a serious illness that is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads from human to human through the bodily fluids of people who exhibit symptoms.

Global responders say they’re working around the clock to prevent the spread of the virus in the DRC, insisting they will not allow a repeat of the West African outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people from 2013 to 2016.

The trial vaccine being used in Democratic Republic of Congo is made by the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Merck. While it is not yet fully approved, the vaccine appeared to be effective in West Africa’s Guinea in 2015.

Mbandaka is relatively safeguarded for the moment,” said Mr. Salama, although he noted it takes up to 10 days for the vaccine to become protective.

“We’re still in that window of uncertainty in terms of whether there are going to be new cases, even with the known-contacts list,” he said.

Data collected during the Guinea trial suggested the vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV, will protect recipients for well over a year, but it could last much longer. It’s use in DRC will help health officials collect new data on the vaccine’s duration.

Mr. Salama said officials might also try another trial vaccine made by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, if authorities see an opportunity. He added that he believes the other trial vaccine might protect recipients for even longer than the one currently being used.

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