A group of Ugandan scientists announced on Friday (August 2nd) the launch of a clinical trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine, which could also be used in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. An epidemic of this extremely contagious and fatal haemorrhagic fever in 90% of cases has already claimed more than 1,800 victims in one year.
>> Read also: Ebola epidemic spreads to Uganda, WHO meets urgently
A total of 800 Ugandans, mainly from front-line health workers facing the risk of infection, are expected to participate in the two-year study by researchers at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology. The city is 250 km from the epicenter of the epidemic that has affected DR Congo since August 2018. Uganda, where the virus has appeared several times in recent years, has been on alert since beginning of the epidemic in August 2018. In mid-June, two Ugandans died after contracting the disease while traveling across the border.
Pontiano Kaleebu, chief investigator for the Ugandan Research Unit, lamented Friday that the experimental vaccine, developed by the Belgian pharmaceutical company Janssen, has still not been deployed in DR Congo. For the moment, only a vaccine whose clinical efficacy has been demonstrated during an outbreak, rVSV-ZEBOV, produced by US Merck laboratories, is used. It has already been administered to more than 170,000 people in the infected region of North Kivu, but NGO and Congolese health officials point to the risk of a shortage as the virus spread in July. in the regional capital, Goma.
"This vaccine is not appropriate"
Congolese Health Minister Oly Ilunga resigned in mid-July, citing an "opaque consortium at work" to implement the Janssen experimental vaccine, at the risk of causing confusion on the ground. According to him, the need for revaccination eight weeks after the first administration is particularly problematic. "We have come to the conclusion that this vaccine is not appropriate for stopping the current epidemic," he said in an interview with Le Monde. A point of view refuted by the new coordinator for the fight against Ebola, Jean-Jacques, Muyembe.
>> Read also: Ebola declared global health "emergency"
Ugandan scientists are confident about the potential of Janssen's experimental vaccine, already tested on 4,000 people in Europe, the United States and Africa, in a study by the international PREVAC consortium whose first results are expected by 2020. "Good it has not been used in previous outbreaks, and evidence of its efficacy in humans is still lacking, it has been shown to be safe and able to elicit an immune response, and is highly effective against Ebola in humans. primates, "says the Faculty of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, a member of PREVAC and sponsor of the Ugandan study.
For Ugandan researchers, it is "imperative to study several vaccines" able to fight against the virus in the long term. "A vaccine, coupled with strong community engagement, enhanced diagnosis and real-time sequencing, is essential for controlling Ebola outbreaks," said Professor Pontiano Kaleebu at a press conference. Stressing that there is currently no vaccine approved for international use against the virus, he insists: "Developing effective vaccines and treatments for Ebola is a global priority for public health. With this trial, we hope to have more information to help us get an authorized vaccine. "
The rVSV-ZEBOV administered in DR Congo had raised a lot of hope for the World Health Organization, but its effectiveness is limited by the strong security instability of North Kivu where several armed groups are present, and by the reluctance of the communities. vaccine administration. To stem the epidemic, the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) recommended in May 2019 that the Janssen experimental vaccine be administered to "low-risk populations", which includes Ugandans living at the border.