The Ministry of Public Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have announced the launch of Ebola vaccinations for high risk populations in North Kivu province.

The vaccinations have begun one week after the announcement of a second outbreak of Ebola this year in the country. A total of 44 cases have been reported so far, of which 17 have been confirmed.

According to the announcement, work has begun to prepare ring vaccination in the Mangina health area, 30km from the town of Beni.

The provincial Health Minister and the provincial Coordinator of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation were the first to be vaccinated. They were followed by first line health workers from the Mangina health centre, who had been in contact with people who were confirmed cases of Ebola.

“Vaccines are an important tool in the fight against Ebola. This is why it has been a priority to move them rapidly into place to begin protecting our health workers and the affected population,” said Minister of Health of the DRC, Dr Oly Ilunga.

A total of 3,220 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine are currently available in the country, while supplementary doses have been requested. While the vaccine goes through the licensing process, an agreement between Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Merck, the developer of the vaccine, ensures that additional investigational doses of the vaccine are available.

“The DRC has once again demonstrated strong leadership in its early response to this outbreak,” said Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Ebola is aggressive. We must respond more aggressively. Beginning the vaccination so quickly is a key early step,” continued Dr Ghebreyesus.

WHO has provided logistical support for the establishment of the cold chain and sent supplies needed for the vaccinations, in addition to supporting the negotiation of protocols with the manufacturer and national authorities, and supporting the deployment of vaccination experts from Guinea to work alongside national staff, who began the vaccination.

“We are proud of the regional solidarity demonstrated by the vaccination efforts, and confident that the strong capacity of the African region will once again be demonstrated during the response to this outbreak,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

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