(GIN) – Congolese people seeking a vaccine against the Ebola epidemic could be getting the run-around by the World Health Organization (WHO) which stands accused of rationing the distribution of a drug deemed highly effective against the deadly disease.
The humanitarian medical group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) criticized the pace of ongoing inoculations “too slow” and “largely insufficient”
According to MSF, between 450,000 and 600,000 people should have been immunized by now – more than double the actual number.
MSF blamed “tight controls on supply and eligibility criteria” over the vaccine produced by the U.S.-pharmaceutical company Merck. They called for an international, independent committee to oversee vaccination efforts instead.
The WHO dismissed the charge, saying it was only implementing a strategy recommended by an independent advisory body of experts and as agreed with the government of the D.R.C. and partners.”
In the current outbreak, 3,157 cases and 2,108 deaths were reported as of Sept. 19, when the WHO admitted that disease transmission had worsened, with 57 new cases that week, versus 40 the week before. The affected region includes the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, in the northeastern part of the country, near the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
So far, around 225,000 people have received the Ebola vaccination manufactured by the American pharma giant Merck since August 8, 2018.
Another experimental vaccine, manufactured by the US-based firm Johnson & Johnson (J&J), is due to be introduced from mid-October in areas which do not have “active Ebola transmission”, the U.N. health agency said this week.
J&J’s vaccine requires two injections eight weeks apart. The Merck vaccine, estimated to be 97.5 percent effective, requires a single shot.
Congo’s previous minister of health, Dr. Oly Ilunga, strongly opposed using any vaccine but the Merck one, saying people had come to trust it and would be unlikely to accept a new one. He resigned in July after Congo’s president took control of the Ebola response. In his resignation letter, Ilunga cited outside pressure to deploy the J&J product and accused unspecified “actors” of showing a “lack of ethics” over the issue.
Dr. Ilunga was arrested on Sept. 14, accused of mismanaging some $4 million meant for the Ebola response, a claim that his lawyers deny.