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Ebola Outbreak: DRC To Start Vaccination Campaign


Democratic Republic of the Congo will begin a vaccination campaign tomorrow in hopes of stopping the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. The disease has moved to a city, Mbandaka, with a population of about 1 1/2 million, a development that is of great worry to health care workers. The World Health Organization reports that at least 26 people have died since Ebola hit a rural area last month. We have a spokesman for the World Health Organization on the line now from Geneva.

Tarik Jasarevic, welcome.

TARIK JASAREVIC: Hello. Thank you.

GONYEA: So how many doses of Ebola vaccine are available? And tell us who will receive it.

JASAREVIC: As of today, we have shipped the Democratic Republic of the Congo 7,500 doses of vaccine. More vaccines are available if needed. This is not a general vaccination. It is a targeted vaccination. So people who are eligible to be vaccinated will be - people who have been identified as high-risk individuals who have been in a close contact with those who have been tested positive for Ebola virus. It's called a ring vaccination method, basically making a ring around a person who has tested positive, and then making a second ring - so contacts of contacts. Also, those who will receive vaccination are health workers and the responders. So we consider that for each confirmed case of Ebola, there will be between 100 and 150 people who will be eligible for vaccination.

GONYEA: Is the vaccine effective?

JASAREVIC: Vaccine has proved to be safe but also effective. More than 16,000 people, including myself, were vaccinated during the trials in the U.S. and Europe and in Africa. So although vaccine has not been licensed yet, it has proven its efficiency and its safety. However, it does not replace all the other containment measures that still have to be done in a number of locations in Mbandaka and Bikoro and in nearby villages.

GONYEA: Give us some sense of some of those things beyond the vaccination.

JASAREVIC: So, first of all, we need treatment isolation units, where people who have Ebola are provided with the best possible supportive treatment so their chances of survival are as high as possible. We need to have epidemiological work of identifying contacts and do active case research.

GONYEA: And those other things are being put in place at this point?

JASAREVIC: These things are being put in place. We have teams on the ground. What is complicated right now is that there were a number of cases that were confirmed positive in Mbandaka. It's a big city where, obviously, people get in touch with more people than in rural areas. And it also multiplies the number of teams we need to have because we need to do all those measures in Mbandaka and in smaller villages. So the scale-up is very important, and this is why we are really trying to do this quickly before virus goes to some other places.

GONYEA: When Ebola spread through West Africa a few years ago, the WHO was criticized for a slow response. Now that Ebola has spread to a port city in Congo, why have you not declared an international public health emergency?

JASAREVIC: Well, the emergency committee met just a day before yesterday, and they felt that the situation is very serious - that there is a risk of regional spread - but that the measures that have been put in place by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and partners such as the World Health Organization (unintelligible) are being timely and robust.

GONYEA: That's Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization.

Thanks for talking to us.

JASAREVIC: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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