The cases were in the Wangata neighbourhood of Mbandaka, a crowded port city on Congo where millions of people live in slums with no sewer system. Several public boats travel downstream over the river to the capital on a daily basis, overcrowded with people using filthy toilets with no running water to wash.
The campaign aims to vaccinate health workers first before moving to those who have been identified to be at risk due to contact with suspected cases.
Use of the VSV-EBOV shot – an experimental vaccine developed by Merck – marks a “paradigm shift” in how to fight Ebola, said the World Health Organization’s head of emergency response, and means regions with Ebola outbreaks can in future expect more than just containment of an outbreak with basic public health measures such as isolation and hygiene.
The shot is designed for use in so-called ring vaccination plans. When a new Ebola case is diagnosed, all people who might have been in recent contact with the patient are traced and vaccinated to keep the disease from spreading.
The same strategy was used to test Merck’s vaccine in Guinea in late 2015, towards the end of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2013 to 2016. The trial results showed it was safe and gave very high levels of protection against Ebola.
Around 30 Guinean health workers who were directly involved in that 2015 vaccine trial have travelled to Congo to help with the immunisations there.
Congo’s minister of health, Oly Illunga posted photographs of two Ebola patients from Bikoro who were cured and released on Saturday (May 19) and an MSF worker said they were the first to recover in Bikoro.