The ministry of health with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) has started vaccinating frontline health workers against the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
The exercise began on Wednesday in Ntoroko district and will initially be implemented in the five high risk districts of Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Kasese and Bunyangabu which border the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The orientation of vaccination teams and health workers started on Monday.
A total of 2,100 doses of the ‘rVSV-Ebola’ vaccine will be administered to the health workers to protect them against the type of Ebola virus strain that is currently circulating in some parts of DRC.
This particular vaccine is currently being administered in DRC and is demonstrating positive protective results and potency against the Ebola virus-Zaire type.
In vaccinating frontline health workers against EVD even before Uganda detects a single case, health authorities are being cautious having learnt bitter lessons from previous outbreaks, ministry of health and WHO said in a joint statement.
A number of health workers including the renowned Dr Mathew Lukwiya contracted the disease and died as they cared for EVD patients. These could have been saved had a vaccine been available then.
An outbreak of Ebola in the DRC claimed 180 lives so far, and with high numbers of people moving across the border “the public health risk of cross-border transmission of Ebola to Uganda was assessed to be very high,” health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng said.
Aceng noted that the administration of the Ebola vaccine to frontline health care workers has been the missing link in the country’s EVD preparation and readiness efforts.
The minister explained that the vaccine is only available for frontline health workers who are at high risk of contracting EVD as they manage suspected cases.
“The vaccine is not available to the general population at this stage. This is targeted vaccination,” Aceng emphasized.
Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the World Health Organization representative to Uganda said the vaccine was close to 100 percent effective and carried few risks.
He said the vaccination as huge step in mitigating the risk of Ebola among health care workers. He assured of its potency and ability to protect them effectively.
Although the Ebola vaccine is not commercially licensed, it is being used under ‘expanded access’ or what is also known as ‘compassionate use’ in the ongoing Ebola outbreak DRC.
This vaccine was also used in the Ebola outbreak in Equateur in May-July 2018.
In 2015, the vaccine was given to more than 16,000 volunteers involved in several studies in Africa, Europe and the United States where it was found to be safe and protective against the Ebola virus.
Several studies have shown that the vaccine is safe and protective against the Ebola virus but more scientific research is needed before it can be licensed.
The vaccine is therefore being used on compassionate basis, to protect persons at highest risk of the Ebola outbreak, under a ‘ring vaccination’ strategy, which is similar to the approach used to eradicate smallpox.
In this strategy, informed and written consent is needed from people to be vaccinated.